Republished on Wednesday 30th May 2018: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of June's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
There aren’t nearly enough motorcycle games that let you play a round of tennis with a penguin, of that we can all agree. Alas, until some clever publisher transforms the concept into a yearly franchise with a pricey season pass, Trials Fusion will have to do. Not only does it boast squirrels and black-and-white birds, but it’s also one of the most flipping awesome games on the PlayStation 4. ‘Flipping’ because, well, it’s a physics-based platform game, and ‘awesome’ because it’s a really good physics-based platform game.
There aren’t many titles on the scale of RedLynx’s signature series that marry both an addictive gameplay mechanic with an almost endless amount of content with which to enjoy it. Most developers focus on one or the other: a laughably short release that starts brilliantly but never builds to its potential, or a staggeringly long one that becomes repetitive and dull quickly. They could all learn a lot from Fusion, and the Finnish outfit behind it.
Completing a trial is as easy as navigating a bike from its starting point through to the finishing line, but the game’s main boss – also known as gravity – is ready to thwart you at every turn. Just like in real life, you’ll be constantly pulled towards the ground regardless of the amount of happy thoughts that you focus on. The aim of the game is to deftly avoid crashing into obstacles across a wide variety of 2D environments – although you’ll probably spend a large chunk of your time cursing Isaac Newton for inventing the laws of physics in the first place.
By shifting the rider’s weight, you’ll subtly alter the way that your bike moves through the air, and how it’ll land when you come back into contact with the track. Will your bike gracefully speed towards the next obstacle, or will it burst into flames, breaking your body in places that you didn’t even existed as part of the process? The latter is far more likely, especially in the later levels, and you’ll need extreme precision and a high degree of muscle memory if you want to rank on the leaderboards.
The early trials won’t really cause too much in the way of stress, but they’re an important part of the learning process. They’re hard enough that you can still very easily make mistakes, but forgiving enough that you’ll be given the chance to learn from them. This, however, quickly changes. As you unlock faster bikes and hard courses, you’ll need to find a perfect balance if you want to see a level through to its conclusion without any fatalities.
There are dozens of stages across multiple difficulties (as well as a level editor), but the fun doesn’t stop there – in fact, that’s quite the opposite. Simply finishing the base trials will take you around six to seven hours, but it’s the leaderboards that will keep you coming back. If you have friends that own the game – and you should make some if you don’t – you’ll be accompanied by ghosts that will appear as you race. This will give you plenty of incentive to go back time and time again, as you all incrementally improve on each others’ scores.
There are also challenges on each level. These give you additional objectives to complete, whether it be flipping your bike a certain number of times or finding a specific Easter egg, adding variety to the experience that extends beyond the core vehicular action. Moreover, they guide you towards the many secrets stashed in the release – an asset that was often overlooked in previous Trials games by all but the biggest fans.
Suffice to say, then, this is arguably one of the wackiest driving games since 1997’s excellent Diddy Kong Racing. However, this still isn’t an out-and-out racer, as it has more in common with the likes of LittleBigPlanet than it does MotoGP. Timing and positioning is of the utmost importance, and going fast isn’t ever going to be your only focus.
Alas, when you’re not struggling with steep hills and impossible drops, you’ll have the chance to check out the title’s environments. Fusion is a beautiful game, although it doesn’t always want you to know it. Some levels – especially those indoors – have an almost plastic sheen that a look a little ‘gamey’. There are still some interesting lightning effects, and the way that things move around as your drive is impressive, but you won’t always be blown away. Then you’ll find yourself in the middle of a snow storm, a lush jungle, or a desert oasis, and your jaw will hit the flaw. Little things – like particles of snow or lens flare – go a long way towards demonstrating just how gorgeous these select environments really are.
And if you’re not impressed by showy things, you should at least be able to respect that the game runs at 1080p and never dips below its silky smooth 60 frames-per-second – no matter what’s falling apart or blowing up around you. The audio holds up well, too, offering a soundtrack that – while not something that you’d likely listen to outside of the game – serves as a great accompaniment to the action. There are even Portal-esque AIs that will entertain you with bits of story and some great jokes while you play.
These can, of course, become an issue at times. As the game is designed around constantly replaying the same levels, you’ll get tired of hearing those one-liners over and over. As fun as some of the samples are, they do wear out their welcome on the – and we’re not exaggerating here – 80th occasion that you hear them. Moreover, there are some glitches that’ll pester hardcore players, such as when you land a big drop flat. This will cause your rider to stretch out like a terrible ET parody, and actually get caught in the wheels. It’d be a fun share moment, but it almost always culminates in a crash, meaning that the developer really needs to address this issue soon.
Trials Fusion is one of the best games on the PlayStation 4, there’s no doubt about that. Convince your friends to get it, and established relationships will turn sour faster than an Evel Knievel-esque stunt. Challenging, funny, and exciting – gaming rarely gets any better than this.