A unicorn, sporting a tribal shoulder tattoo and blessed with a purple mane that would make Prince swoon, races through what looks like the ruins of Aperture Labs from Portal. Every so often, a plume of fire erupts from its nostrils, all while a cat eggs him on while brandishing what looks like Robocop's gun. This is the signature image of the Awesome Level Max DLC for Trials Fusion, and it's so far from the basic premise of the dirtbike platformer from last year that it's easy to think that the folks at Red Lynx came up with it while bobbing their heads to the Grateful Dead. This is the kind of stuff dreams are made of, and that's why it's disappointing that Red Lynx wakes us from the little dream they've crafted far too soon. Fortunately, there are plenty of other things to do here as well.
As cool as the cat and the unicorn are, they're only around for eight trials, which is barely more than a handful when considered in the context of the 30 total trials contained here. That's a bit of a shame, as they're visually fantastic levels that include everything from the ruined complex mentioned above to caverns where the cat slides his way down the skeletal spine of a long-dead dragon, or pounces on the helmet of a penguin in a robot suit while suspended in orbit high above the world. At other times, a catapult flings him and his steed into vistas where castles perch atop floating rocks or precariously perched earthworks crumble down into a cloudy void. There's even a lightweight story involved in which the fearless feline reawakens what look like the three LARPing cousins of Puss-in-Boots, but it seems like silly, extraneous fluff, and the animations are elementary at best. When you're dealing with a gun-toting cat on a unicorn, do you really need an explanation?
These fantastical aspects make Awesome Level Max an add-on to remember, but it's unfortunate that certain elements unnecessarily complicate the cat-and-unicorn tracks. Take, for instance, the way the settings sometimes shift from Martian spaceports, to Aperture Labs lookalikes, to medieval ruins all within the span of 10 seconds. The direction of the track usually changes with each dimensional shift, resulting in an experience that is overly contingent on memory over skill.
All of this might have been more enjoyable if controlling the cat and the unicorn were a bit easier to control. The unicorn performs exactly like a dirt bike and responds to the same mechanics of braking and leaning to nail the crazier stunts, but its unique shape means that it lacks the visual cues normally presented by a dirt bike's wheels and the more obvious lean-ins of the rider as he attempts to shift the bike's weight. On the bright side, it's not too challenging a hurdle to overcome, but it does require a bit more guesswork than the dirt bikes.
Red Lynx seems to know this, as they don't allow you to use the cat and the unicorn anywhere other than their dedicated stages. That's a bit of a tragedy, as the rest of the Awesome Level Max DLC is dedicated to 22 tracks evenly created by both the studio itself and the best members of the player community, and they're usually crazy enough that a cat with a Rambo headband wouldn't have looked too out of place. But no such luck. For the most part, these tracks are but another sampling of the DLC we've come to expect from Trials Fusion, although I'm happy to report that they present a satisfying mix of hardcore challenges and tracks that won't cause brand-new players to sweat too much. They're often as visually impressive as they are satisfying. In the RedLynx-made "Seismic Activity," for instance, roads collapse and scaffolding spikes from the landscape while you make leaps from moving trains; in the tough player-made "Boron City," the need to balance your bike atop falling dumpsters follows a series of tightly-spaced ramps.
But if you do want to get a little crazy in these extra trials, you can. Not gun-toting-cat-on-a-unicorn crazy, mind you, but you can at least slap on a giant Rayman suit (which looks like it just has to be hot) or items like comparatively modest helmets that look like pugs or plague doctors. The catch? You'll have to pay for the privilege, although you can earn some of the premium "acorns" slowly through tournaments. These and other items represent Trials Fusion's first microtransactions, and they launched as a free update at the same time as the Awesome Level Max DLC. While they don't affect gameplay and they're fairly generous--the Rayman suit costs just under $5.00--their appearance still stings in a game that's gone without them for so long.
There's a hint of a trend in that decision, as Awesome Level Max is also the first DLC to require a separate purchase even if you've already bought the season pass. Still, it's worth it for the wide range of tracks alone, and its variety of visuals and difficulties makes it the single best DLC to download for brand-new players who've never played anything aside from the core game. Even better for rookies, you can pick up the Awesome Max Edition for $39.99 and get this and all previous DLCs for one price. Sure, the unicorn can be a pain to control sometimes, and the most unique part is over far too soon, but if you're looking for a new infusion of Trials Fusion with a dose of the Internet's favorite animal--go on, you can haz.