It seems these days there is no shortage of bike trial games on the iOS platform. While not quite at the saturation level of the ‘endless runner’ or ‘physics puzzler’ just yet, new titles in this genre need to bring something new to the table if they really want to leave any sort of lasting impression in such a crowded category.
Fortunately for develper ECA Games, Rock(s) Rider does just that, with stylized flashy graphics and some interesting new gamplay elements that I had not seen in a bike trial game yet. That’s not to say that all the traditional elements that you’d expect from a game of this type aren’t there too. In fact, there are plenty of ramps and collapsable platforms to conquer, flips and wheelies to be mastered as you try and make your way through some tricky obstacle courses. Unfortunately, the game also has a few instances of cheap death low girders (that require precise, slow ducking) thrown in as well.
The controls are solid, with players able to customize them from a column a/column b style menu to suite their particular play-style. I myself opted for the default four button layout with separate accellerate, brake, lean back and lean forward buttons.
The game is a universal app and is equally playable on either the large or small screen. That being said, I did find myself preferring the larger real estate of my iPad. However, even on the larger screen, there were a number of times (a few too many) when I got a little confused by the action on the screen unsure of exactly where I was supposed to go or just got completely stuck and unable to shake myself loose and ended up dying A LOT (though in fairness, the perpetual dying is fairly typical for me in a game of this genre).
There is an in-game currency system which allows you to purchase new outfits for your rider and skins for your bike. You earn the money by sucessfully pulling off flips, gold pickups and getting a bronze, silver or gold standing on a particular level,based on the time in which you complete the level. There is also a cool betting system that allows you to wager your funds on things like whether or not you will finish the level without falling. Additional per-level challenges like getting a gold medal or finding a hidden moto skin for your bike, along with the usual game center leaderboards and achievements help to keep you coming back for more.
Now about those “interesting new gamplay elements” that I mentioned earlier… There are four unlockable levels that put a three-wheeled bike between your legs, completely changing up the dynamics of the game. This was a fun twist which I wish had been expanded more. Unless you are skilled enough to earn quite a few gold medals, these will take you a long time to unlock and will require multiple play-throughs of levels to collect all the hidden items. The first of which is when you reach 50% completion of the “Pan Head’s Warehouse” section of the game) Once you reach the twelfth level you get your first head to head boss challenge, in which you are trying to beat the boss in a race to the finish to win his bike. This level in particular, contains some cool 3D visuals requires some precise riding if you want to keep up. Again, this was a nice twist that is unfortunately not utilized as much as it could be.
The place where Rock(s) Rider really shines is the graphics, one look and you’ll immediately be drawn in by the glitz and glamor of this rock ‘n’ roll trial bike game, complete with Batman ’66 style “WHOOPS” and “BANG!” action words when you wipeout. Let’s face it, all the games in this genre are at least is some part borrowing and stealing from the title that inspired them, RedLynx’s 2009 XBLA hit, Trials HD. Rock(s) Rider is perhaps the most Trials HD-like yet, at least in the looks department. Stylized menus, crisp graphics, especially on my third generation iPad and blood pumping soundtrack, I found this to be one of the tougher games in this genre, which is in part due to the closer camera angle restricting your view of the course ahead. I’m not necessairly sure that the difficulty was all by design. There were far too many times when my bike just got complete stuck and my only out was to reset back to the last check point. So the game does still have a few rough edges, but I’m sure with updates these can be smoothed out.
While Rock(s) Rider may look a good deal like the XBLA title that inspired it, it is nice to see that the developer has made an effort to expand the genre, coming up with some fresh gameplay elements, instead of just giving us more of the same. Hopefully in future updates the ECA team will fix the stuck bike issues, pull out the camera a little and increase the frequency of those attributes that make it unique and further set it out from the pack. Give us more three-wheelers, a multiplayer ghost mode like the boss battles and more of that amazing over-the shoulder 3D view! Players looking to for a new bike trial game will, at a minimum, definitely want to download the lite version of Rock(s) Rider and give it a spin.