There's nothing quite like the Trials series, with its inimitable mix of motorcycling racing, fiendishly difficult platforming, and physics puzzling. Players who can't get enough of the unique Trials brand of challenge have been patiently waiting for the next ride since 2014's Trials Fusion, with its cheesy-but-charming futuristic setting and the absurdity of its Awesome Levels Max DLC (which prominently features a pistol-toting cat riding a unicorn). By comparison, the upcoming Trials Rising developed by RedLynx and Ubisoft feels a bit more grounded - but only ever so slightly, when you account for how bonkers the previous game got. And after getting a few hours of hands-on play, I can attest that Rising's definitely got that Trials magic - the kind that keeps you retrying a stage endlessly until you finally earn that medal you've been working for and can bask in the satisfaction of a job well done.
If you somehow haven't played this cult-hit franchise before, imagine taking on obstacle courses akin the American Ninja Warrior TV show while riding a lightweight motorcycle, and you've basically got the jist of Trials' 2.5D gauntlets that you'll tackle on two wheels. On paper, it doesn't seem any more complicated than getting from point A to point B as fast as possible, with as few faults (that is, comical ragdoll wipeouts) as possible. But that's easier said than done: mastering the physics of acceleration and the precarious balance of your bike is the only way you're going to get past some of the trickier ramps and jumps without falling to your doom, careening into an explosive barrel, or taking a skull-cracking header into a brick wall. Fortunately, the tight controls make it so that once you've gotten comfortable, your biker avatar will feel like an extension of your muscle memory.
Speeding around the globe
Trials Rising has structured its campaign as a world tour of stunt racing, taking you to tracks in such exotic locales as Egypt, Pripyat, Seoul, and Mount Everest. This is where the somewhat more grounded feel sets in: despite the gorgeous backdrops and ludicrous obstacles, the sideline presence of cheering crowds, camera crews, and real-world sponsors like Fox Racing makes Rising seem a wee bit restrained compared to the OTT silliness of previous games. Interestingly, Trials Rising borrows a page from the surprisingly solid mobile spin-off Trials Frontier, in that the overworld map features some recurring characters who will quickly chat with you before you take on the track.
Even with the focus on real-world travel destinations, there's still plenty of inventive chaos to be found in the later stages. My favorite moments from the demo - which, if you don't want any track spoilers, skip to the next paragraph now - included cruising through a cargo plane that hit some serious turbulence, and a joyride across a Hollywood backlot with giant robot attacks and car chases happening in the background. Some stages also feature fresh gimmicks, like rings that give you a bit of rocket propulsion when you jump through them. There was an impressive level of variety in the dozen or so levels I played, both in terms of vibrant settings and difficulty curve, and you expect another huge suite of stages to conquer as you chase after gold (or perhaps diamond?) medals with exacting time limits. I'm happy to report that one Extreme level took me 155 retries to cross the finish line using checkpoints, and I reckon I'm no Trials slouch - so ninja riders with a knack for one-wheel jumps and nail-biting flips should have plenty of brutally tough tracks to chew on.
If, by some miracle, you manage to ace everything on offer in Trials Rising, you can always craft your own challenges thanks to the return of the custom track creator. Just as before, you can upload, download, and rank tracks in the online community, and Rising's creator features an impressive 8,000 objects (combining parts from Trials Fusion, the 2016 spin-off Trials of the Blood Dragon, and even all the way back to Trials HD) to use as building blocks in your masochistic motorcycle masterpiece. You've also got all the tools to program in some background scenes, or the classic touch of hilarious calamities that befall your rider just after they've crossed the finish line.
New ways to play
Graphically, Trials Rising looked fantastic while playing on a PS4 Pro, with crisp visuals, excellent lighting, and plenty of small details to admire in the backgrounds. The Nintendo Switch version looked slightly worse by comparison, but it's still impressive to see it running smoothly on a Switch, with Rising being the first Trials game on a Nintendo console. It's a perfect fit for on-the-go-gaming, especially if you've only got time to take on a track or two. I'm no fan of using individual Joy-Con controllers, but they made for instant co-op fun using the new Tandem bike, which plops two players onto a single, elongated motorcycle with equal access to leaning, gassing, and braking that's sure to cause many a hilarious wipeout. There's also traditional local or online multiplayer on multi-lane tracks, though they're thematically more tame than the standard track selection.
As in previous games, you'll be able to customize the look of your rider and your bikes via a huge selection of gear, but that's where those two dirty words in gaming creep up: loot boxes. You'll earn a loot crate containing three randomized items each time you level up (which happened often during my demo), but the rewards they contain seemed fairly underwhelming. I mostly got a bunch of bland stickers for my bike, including one that was nothing more than a curved line - but I did snag a dabbing pose that I equipped immediately, so it wasn't a total bust. You'll be able to purchase cosmetic costume pieces using in-game earnings or the real-money currency of Acorns (yes, those super-secret squirrels are back too), and as always, they have no actual effect on gameplay.
Having followed Trials since its ancients origins as a Java-based browser game, I'm always excited to take on more of its outlandishly extreme, devilishly designed tracks - and judging by my time with the game, it looks like Trials Rising will deliver everything a series fan could want. You can start revving your engines and gunning for top leaderboard spots when Trials Rising hits Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC on February 26.
For more exciting releases coming this year, check out our most anticipated new games of 2019.