Trials of the Blood Dragon is one of those concepts you didn’t realize you wanted until it was staring you in the face. Far Cry: 3 Blood Dragon's over-the-top setting deserved an encore, but it couldn't just be another first-person shooter--cue the whacky dirtbike racing-meets-platformer series, Trials.
Trials of the Blood Dragon takes place some years after Blood Dragon’s ending. Rex “Power” Colt has retired from the Blood Dragon killing business with his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Darling, and has two kids: Slayter and Roxanne. When Dr. Darling disappears mysteriously, and Rex dies fighting Vietnam War 4 by himself, the kids--now smart-aleck teenagers--are recruited to take up the family business of defending America.
The first few stages take place in a rendition of Vietnam bathed in sunlight and explosions. You steer a stunt bike over steep, rolling hills, in theory making sweet, impossible jumps and flips. But because Trials of the Blood Dragon requires surgical precision, you will likely spend an equal amount of time failing and picking up the pieces as you familiarize yourself with the controls. Compared to previous Trials games, the tutorial here is a bit lacking, but the game balances that out by having a steadier learning curve than previous Trials games. The difficulty of missions increases in gentle increments, easing you into mastery. The pacing might run the risk of boring veterans if the game didn’t have its share of tricks up its sleeve.
After a few levels, you acquire a gun, and for a short time, the gunplay is a fine fit, with a reasonably small selection of targets to hit while riding your bike and targetting with the right analog stick. However, there comes a time when you have to ditch your bike. In these few, scattered stages, you control Roxanne on foot, and the game becomes a twin stick platformer. The mix of platforming and shooting during these missions is a counterintuitive mess, where you can use the X button to jump, but can’t shoot at the same time. All the while, your enemies have spectacular aim, and you don’t have the time to stop and shoot.
Not all of Trials of the Blood Dragon’s new ideas flounder, however. Later stages swap the guns for a grappling hook. You have to manage momentum and positioning with greater care than usual, but it leads to some tense, heart-pounding moments when speed is a factor--there's an amazing boss fight against Power Ranger lookalikes that makes rather brilliant use of the hook. Roxanne eventually gets to use a radio controlled car built for speed and wild loop-de-loops in a distinct slate of Hot Wheels-inspired courses, adding another appreciable layer of over-the-top action.
Trials of the Blood Dragon truly excels once it breaks out of Vietnam. Where Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was a delirious take on cult 80s action, Trials of the Blood Dragon takes wider aim, featuring missions based on action-schlock homages, each with its own wild twist. One stage is a full-blown Hotline Miami hat-tip--complete with animal masks--that climaxes with a full-on drug hallucination level that shifts, rebuilds, and alters gravity on the fly. Another stage is a weird mash up of Big Trouble In Little China and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, complete with a minecart-based platforming.
Even with all this, the game manages to maintain a plot. The twins interact during and between levels while non-sequitur Saturday morning commercials intrude at random. It’s a strange, random mix of aesthetics, with the cartoonish twins and live-action commercials vying for attention, but each stage mimicks its source material with style. The wide variety of themes and referenes does a great job of staving off late-game boredom, and the twins are surprisingly enjoyable characters to be around, ribbing and complimenting each other in equal measure, despite the insanity that surrounds them.
As with other Trials games, Trials of the Blood Dragon demands frequent replays if you want to get the best rankings and unlockable items. There’s no shortage of goodies to collect, like extra costumes, but the stages are varied enough to be inviting all on their own without the promise of rewards. You will have to contend with boredom during a few unremarkable levels, but the game's fun, mind-boggling stages leave the strongest impression. Whatever mad genius decided to smash the two series together should be commended: the mix is mostly a successful one, and where it fails, it’s at least failure in favor of trying something new.