Trials of the Blood Dragon

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was the best thing that happened to the Far Cry series. Built on Ubisoft’s overly familiar open world formula, Far Cry 3 lacked character in its narrative of its mostly anglo-centric cast. Blood Dragon, originally thought to be an April Fool’s joke, was a love letter to a period of cinematic history that was fueled by a sense of raw American patriotism--the only weapon strong enough to destroy the evils of Communism. Blood Dragon’s neon infused, referential and deprecating sense of humor brought more character to Far Cry in its short length and any of the games combined. The same tongue in cheek, hyper nostalgia that energized Far Cry seeps its way into the Trials franchise with aptly named Trials of the Blood Dragon.

If Far Cry: Blood Dragon was a parody of 80s movies, then Trials of the Blood Dragon is an homage to the toyetic cartoons of the era. The action puts Rex Colt (still gravely voiced by Michael Biehn) in the role of narrator for his son and daughter who are mentored by a Sargeant Slaughter look alike as they do their part for America during Vietnam War IV. Seriously, I love everything about the game’s ridiculous setup - it all feels like a bad G.I. Joe episode. Unlike Blood Dragon, you won’t be shooting robot soldiers using guns from Terminator and Robocop. Instead, you’ll save the world on motorbike across obstacle courses made from all manner of dips, jumps, and ramps.

Trials of the Blood Dragon doesn’t have a direct comparison to any film or television show like those Blood Dragon parodies, though my gut tells me there HAS to be some long forgotten 80s movie where kids solve problems using personal vehicles. Trials of the Blood Dragon retains Trials’ wonderful physics engine that challenges the player to use a gentle touch during tricks and traversal lest the slightest (or careless) bump can ruin a perfect run. Leaning the bike forward and backwards and learning to manage speed are the keys to getting through a level in the shortest possible time and minimal restarts. Though my experience is limited to the first Trials, the action seems mostly untouched. Restarting checkpoints is instantaneous and the unique risk and reward system that governs bike tricks that all but defined the franchise are alive and kicking.

Sadly, all is not well in the state of future Vietnam. Although the bike portions of the game are fun and challenging in a very Trials way, the same cannot be said for the on foot traversal stages. When the characters hop off their bikes, the game turns into a seemingly half-assed twin stick shooter platformer. Other games have made this control/mechanic fun and I expected Trials of the Blood Dragon to do well with it. What kills this part of the game is the odd approach to movement. There’s a weird thickness of movement as if every level were set inside a giant vat of molasses. Also, there’s very little challenge in these levels. The level design is basic and enemies are sprinkled conservatively across the map, removing any degree of challenge of tension to the scene. It’s almost as if Redlynx were forced into adding on foot sections by some unknown third party. The lack of any memorable experience also suggests that they just wanted to get them over with and move onto the next beat. Making things all the more frustrating is that the shooting mechanic finds its way in the motorbike parts of the game, too. Whether it is shooting turrets or grappling parts of the environment to swing across gaps, these mechanics simply get in the way of the more enjoyable act or guiding a bike through ridiculous obstacle courses. Trials isn’t a game that made me think, “You know what would make this more fun? Shooting stuff!”

To be fair, there are parts of the game where Redlynx misfires on some really interesting bike tracks. A ride down the side of a high rise is confusion because of the completely foreign vertical angle, and a “test” inside a tomb caused my brain to lock up. For a game that spends the majority of its time on a horizontal plane, these sudden shifts in direction, physics, and momentum are uncomfortably jarring.

What Trials of the Blood Dragon has going for it is a super slick presentation. The neon shines brightly, and its unearthly glow permeates each scene. The best use of the game’s special effects come to play in a series of stages that pay homage to Hotline Miami. A drug shutdown op goes bad as the hallucinogens affect the level itself that phase whole sections of the level in and out. Book ended the playable stages are animated cutscenes (looking an awful lot like the early episodes of The Venture Brothers) that are intercut with channel flips complete with snippets of bizarre and surreal commercials and television programs. A heavy, though not heavy handed, 1980s atmosphere and window dressings (right down to the collectible sticker pack collectibles!) filled me with the warm nostalgic fuzzies as I recalled my own pop culture experience as a child of the era.

Trials of the Blood Dragon has its ups and downs. Unfortunately, the downs outweigh the ups. The platforming, twin-stick shooting portions of the game thoroughly outstay their welcome through a series of missteps including wiggy controls and pedestrian level design. It’s biggest sin, however, is being completely unnecessary to the action. It’s much more fun zipping along obstacle courses and wrestling the the physics engine than it is shooting your way through a generic building or factory. Slapping gun battles and remote control RC car sections in a Trials game is overkill. Trials of the Blood Dragon is a great idea on paper but when it messes with the design that makes Trials so fun to play, the whole experience nearly collapses under the weight of its ambition.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.