Reviewed on PC
From start to finish, Trials of the Blood Dragon knocks it out of the park with its presentation. Love it or hate it, this is Blood Dragon on steroids: scanline effects and a surplus of neon adorn almost every inch of the game, while stylish cutscenes that blend goofy (and occasionally unsettling) FMV commercials and Saturday morning cartoon animations bookend each level. The soundtrack, full of pounding bass and groovy synth, matches the aesthetic perfectly, with the always-excellent Powerglove returning to provide an original track or remix for every stage. Even the writing supplements the game’s style; the plot is written with as much self-aware camp as you’d expect from a Blood Dragon followup, and although most of the jokes fell flat for me (a problem I had with the original Blood Dragon as well), the absolute absurdity of what goes on in many levels kept me amused throughout.
I might appreciate the game’s writing in terms of style, but that’s where my enjoyment of it ends. It’s easily the weakest element of Trials of the Blood Dragon, due in no small part to the two playable protagonists, whose incredibly poor performances and annoying dialogue are likely going to put off anybody over the age of 13. Much like Trials Fusion, you will be forced to listen to these character repeat the same lines over and over as you retry tracks, but RedLynx seem to have taken criticisms of this annoying quirk into consideration, and now lines will only play the first few times you attempt a track instead of infinitely. Picking up a number of years after the events of Blood Dragon, the storyline follows protagonist Rex Colt’s twin children, Slayter and Roxanne, as they try to rescue their father from evil communists. The story here is thin, predictable, and as I mentioned above, not particularly funny. Its one saving grace is that it conveniently explains why you go to so many exotic locations over the course of the game’s 28 levels, but otherwise it’s kind of hard to justify its existence.
"From start to finish, Trials of the Blood Dragon knocks it out of the park with its presentation"
Those levels really are the highlight of Trials of the Blood Dragon, to the point where I can confidently say they’re my favorite collection of Trials levels ever compiled in a single title. All of the locations are wildly different from one another, ranging from none-too-subtle nods to Hotline Miami and Indiana Jones, to the front lines of Vietnam War 4 and beyond. Each locale is colorful and has an entirely unique look and feel, and most introduce new mechanics and/or vehicles to keep things interesting. Most of these settings have just three or four stages dedicated to them, which is just enough to keep any of them from overstaying their welcome and keep the experience intriguing from beginning to end. The only criticism I can really give of the levels (and to many this won’t even be a negative) is that they never get particularly hard. I never struggled to complete any level for more than 15 minutes or so, and those struggles only occurred towards the very end of the game. This is a rapid departure for Trials, although given that Trials of the Blood Dragon seems to be aiming squarely at Blood Dragon fans rather than series regulars, the decision to dial things back makes some sense.
A big part of what makes these levels so good is the twins. My qualms with their performance and writing aside, the presence of multiple characters allows for level design unlike any other Trials game: many have you switch back and forth between them (and various vehicles), adding interesting hurdles to what would otherwise be straightforward levels. A single stage might see you biking into a facility, platforming on foot to hack a computer, then driving a heavy 4-wheeled transport through the walls to make your escape. This kind of variety is great fun and keeps you on your toes the first time you play a level. All the new forms of locomotion in the game (and there are quite a few) blend with Trials’ traditionally bike-based gameplay surprisingly well, and transitioning between them feels entirely natural. This includes the all-new on-foot platforming sections. There are a decent number of these and it’s certainly easy to be skeptical about adding traditional platforming to a Trials game, but these sections control quickly and precisely enough to fit into the Trials universe, although the jumping might be a tad too floaty for some.
There’s so much to love about Trials of the Blood Dragon and despite my above complaints, very little to really dislike. It plays great, looks and sounds fantastic, and does a lot to change things up, both from previous Trials games, and from level to level—which is why it’s such a shame there’s so little of it. The 30 levels (counting two bonus levels that must be unlocked with UPlay Points) included in the game took me just shy of three hours to complete. This being a Trials game, there is room for that number to grow or shrink a little based on how skilled you are, but the end result is that you’ll almost certainly be thirsty for more by the time you’ve reached the story’s conclusion. There are hidden collectibles to be discovered on some levels, and those interested in competing with ghosts and chasing leaderboard glory can still do so, but with such a small track list and no way to make your own levels like Trials Fusion, the $15 price tag might be too steep for what you’re getting. If you’re already a big fan of Trials or Blood Dragon then Trials of the Blood Dragon comes highly recommended (especially for fans of the latter, as the game’s ending has very interesting implications for the future of the franchise), but otherwise waiting for a discount is probably best.