The 3DS is slowly bowing out, but that doesn't mean it's done getting new digital titles. Take Urban Trial Freestyle 2, for instance, which puts you on a dirt bike and tasks you with traversing through a series of concrete hellscapes on your way to high-ranking victory. The price is low and the content is vast, but ultimately the gameplay can't hold it up.
Urban Trial Freestyle 2 presents a series of (wouldn't you know it?) urban-themed trials for you to sputter through on your motorcycle. Your goal is to make it to the end of each trial with as good a star rating as possible, while balancing your exaggeratedly-wobbling bike on a 2.5D plane. Good scores derive from a combination of pulling off tricks and making it to the finish line without getting bashed by obstacles. And as you reach new areas of the urban landscape, you'll find these impediments to increase dramatically.
Right when I started my playthrough, the game's visual style struck me. The drab, gritty combination of concrete and mud paints a memorable yet depressing aesthetic portrait. Septic tanks rise out of the dirt. Patches of exposed rebar pose as spike pits. Filthy two-by-fours wobble and collapse as your bike hobbles over them. Aspects like these, paired with the fuzzy screen of the 3DS, are unmistakably reminiscent of the legendary Tony Hawk games of the late '90s. Adding to this vibe is the instrumental punk rock soundtrack, which is somehow both thrashing and generic. Overall, the zeitgeist of Urban Trial Freestyle 2 is its strongest aspect.
This sounds great so far, but the game unfortunately has a handful of distinct limitations that dramatically hold things back. For one, it becomes clear sometime into the third area that the few tricks you're capable of doing are just not enough to sustain a whole game. The buttons go largely unused, thus restricting your show-offs to high jumps, long jumps, and flips. Animation-wise, this puts Urban Trial's tricks behind those in most kart racers, and mechanically not too far ahead. And then there's the fact that these tricks don't count for much at all unless you do them in the designated zones. Begin your trick at one of starting lines featuring hard-to-read labels, pull it off, teeter through a series of obstacles, and then do it again until trial's end.
With every city environment you can think of featuring eight trials each, there is more than enough content to justify the game's price. However, the problems I mentioned ensure that the whole thing will run out of steam long before you reach the end. Still, you'll likely play long enough to notice another flaw in the game's design: the obstacles and trick segments feel increasingly disparate as you progress. The first two areas present an illusion of synergy between these elements, thanks to the easiness of both. But then the obstacles get more and more taxing while the trick zones stay easy as ever. The second half of the game is practically all about avoiding hazards and trying to fit in low-scoring tricks to supplement what you're handed by the trick zones. It's disjointed, awkward, and sometimes even boring.
Urban Trial Freestyle 2 comes packaged with what ought to be its secret weapon: a robust track creation tool with online sharing. Select any of the environments featured in the game as a background template, and get to work putting together your death trap junkyard. I was amazed by the variety of objects you're able to choose from, coupled with what you're allowed to do with them. Using this surprisingly-deep system, I made an entire track out of floating hot dogs of varying sizes, and did a couple run-throughs. But then I went to download my own track, and the entire sharing feature came crashing down thanks to one thing: a code system. That's right, if you want to get anyone's tracks, you'll have to go online and get their codes. Given that nobody seems to have uploaded said codes, I have yet to experience this feature. It's a baffling decision, especially given that the 3DS is frankly on its way out.
Urban Trial Freestyle 2's great mistake is putting the scoring system where the challenge is at its weakest. You can get through a gauntlet of obstacles unscathed, but you won't be rewarded at all. And while a track creation system does allow you to create amusing challenges for yourself, don't expect to find anyone else's. The effort put into the presentation is commendable, but Urban Trial Freestyle 2 is best described as fleeting, faltering fun.