Trials Rising is a game that carries forward the classic gameplay of the series, but makes severe missteps that ultimately make Rising a step backward for the Trials franchise. With a promise of a globe-trotting campaign that eschews the sci-fi framing of 2014's Trials Fusion or the over-the-top wacky comedy of 2016's Trials of the Blood Dragon, Trials Rising should be a no-nonsense return to form for the series; instead, publisher Ubisoft felt content to allow XP bars, forced grinding, lootboxes, and convoluted premium currencies ruin the righteous purity of Trials.
At first glance, the Trials formula is alive and well with Trials Rising, with a ton of courses to conquer, the return of online multiplayer, and a handful of local multiplayer offerings, including the difficult (if potentially memetic) tandem bike mode allowing two players to ride one bike and infuriate each other.
The game begins strongly, with even the Beginner tracks offering a healthy challenge for casual gamers, and even Trials veterans will need to keep on their toes if they plan to earn those gold medals. Unlike Trials Fusion, which required players to earn a certain amount of gold medals to unlock later stages, Trials Rising ties progression to XP (called Fame here) and player level. In the first half of the game, the XP comes in fast and heavy, allowing the player to progress through the early leagues with ease. However, around level 50 or so, with multiple leagues left to unlock, the XP faucet turns into a drip, forcing hours of level grinding just to unlock the next suite of courses. It's a puzzling design decision which essentially ruins the whole experience.
In Trials, players are encouraged to replay courses to improve their times; in Trials Rising, players are forced to replay courses in order to eke out every last drop of XP, like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. Instead of bettering one's own time, they are tasked with an endless slog of a grind. Throughout the game, the player will earn a handful of sponsorships which offer unique challenges, called Contracts, on certain courses, such as completing a track without failing, within a certain time, or while achieving a certain amount of backflips during a run. They're entertaining diversions and offer incentive to complete courses multiple times while striving towards difficult goals. Sadly, even with the additional sponsorships which come from acquiring the additional, optional bikes, there still aren't nearly enough contracts to prevent hours of mid-to-late game grinding.
Hopping online for some head-to-head multiplayer should, in theory, alleviate some of the grind, but it doesn't. In single player, the player is escorted by/competing with the ghosts of other players' best times, and multiplayer is essentially the same thing, but the ghosts are those same competitors in real-time. The end result of this is that multiplayer races are functionally identical to single-player events, and the XP rewards aren't enough to truly mitigate the grind. However one chooses to play, there's no avoiding a game-crippling grind.
It's impossible to overstate how crippling this broken progression system is. It's poorly balanced and inferior to the progression of Trials Fusion. However, it's only the first of several layers of modern jargon that hold back Trials Rising. Lootboxes pop up for no reason other than to appear trendy, offering paltry rewards of stickers (of which there are many) and clothes and bike parts (of which there are few). They can't be bought with real money, but there is a premium currency, acorns, which can be bought with real money, though they can also be found via hidden squirrel collectables. Lootboxes and premium currency are pointless in a Trials game, dragging down the gameplay with the trappings of "live service" titles. There's arguably nothing inherently wrong with a classic game adapting modern tactics like this, but Trials Rising is a teachable example of how not to do this. The strangest part is, lootboxes can only be bought with in-game currency, not with real money, and microtransactions aren't nearly as intrusive as they are in other games of this nature. It's bizarre, superfluous, and utterly unwanted in Trials Rising.
It's a particular shame in the case of Trials Rising. Mechanically speaking, this is arguably the best Trials game ever. The core gameplay, of physics-based balancing and a palpable sense of speed while navigating a complex obstacle course, is as perfect as it's ever been. The tracks, set in locations around the world, are gorgeous, with incredible lighting and tons of background action offering a total feast for the eyes. Some courses mix things up with fun hooks like jump pads and perspective changes, creating visually engaging moments that also change up the gameplay. Plus, as has long been true, even the most disastrous runs are saved by the ridiculously brutal wipeouts, which see riders get thrown about in glorious ragdoll physics. Adding to this, pretty much every level ends with the rider getting wrecked in any number of hilarious ways.
The best new addition to Trials Rising is the University of Trials. The gameplay of the Trials series is iconic (or perhaps infamous) for being the epitome of "easy to learn, difficult to master." Up until now, players with aspirations of greatness have had to peruse reddit or YouTube channels like Professor FatShady's University of Trials. In a wise and community-focused move, Professor FatShady himself has become part of the Trials canon, with University of Trials appearing as a strong series of advanced tutorials teaching players tough techniques like throttle control, bunny hopping, and scaling vertical walls.
Finally, the map editor returns, as robust and obtuse as ever. Casual players will be infuriated by the lack of tutorials and overwhelming amount of customization, but game design enthusiasts will likely be drawn in by the extreme complexity which allows devoted creators to be limited only by their own imagination. Few will truly understand the map maker, but those who do will be responsible for keeping Trials Rising afloat for years to come.
Trials Rising should have been the best Trials game yet. Mechanically, it often is, with Trials' perfect gameplay remaining, well, perfect, and the Trials University empowering anyone to improve their skills and master (or at least adequately perform) seemingly impossible techniques. It's also full of silly fun, from creatively silly courses to the ridiculous tandem bike mode. On the other hand, a slew of poor decisions hurt the experience. While lootboxes and a pointless premium currency can be dismissed as harmless jargon, the XP and leveling system simply cannot; they destroy the pacing in an irreparable fashion. Perhaps the game will be patched to reduce the XP requirements for levels after 50, but for now, the latter third of the game becomes a truly grueling mess of a grind, as the quest to improve one's time on individual tracks becomes an excruciatingly slow grind for XP, a grind which is not improved by an uninspired multiplayer mode.
Those who can look past the charmless modernity of Trials Rising will find a lot to love in the core mechanics of the moment-to-moment gameplay, but Trials Rising is a perfect example of how seemingly minor and modern changes can drain the fun out of an otherwise great game, completely derailing the experience.
Trials Rising is available on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 code for this review.