Pumped BMX Pro is the latest title to attempt to put a new spin on the tried and tested Trials formula, that consisting of some sort of vehicle and a tricky 2D level that's designed to purposefully trip you up. It's a well trodden path at this point, with various imitations brought to market since Trials blew up with HD and Evolution on Xbox 360.
The spin this time is that you're on a BMX instead of a motorbike, and need to gather and keep momentum if you're going to reach the end of a level. This lack of engine power provides a novel way of mixing the formula up, as slowing down even a touch can often mean failing the level. In theory, this sounds all well and good, adding a new twist and challenge to the way you tackle each 2D stage. However, once the levels get more complex (which doesn't take long), and the bike gets harder to handle, it all starts to fall apart.
The game's structure follows a usual stage progression career mode, moving you through levels as the game introduces new challenges and level ideas. A bronze medal is given out for passing each level, with higher medals awarded for completing extra challenges like a particular skill or trick. The general difficulty of the game meant that we had a hard enough time focusing on just passing the levels, leaving little room to experiment with fancy tricks.
The lack of an engine to get the player out of tricky situations breaks the gameplay loop we've come to expect from a game in this vein. In the aforementioned Trials games, if your ineptitude puts you in a sticky situation, you usually have a way to pull yourself out, as you use the bike's power and character's weight to tussle with the physics and get you back on your way. All too often, Pumped BMX Pro turns into a game of crash and restart, as any loss of speed and flow is a guaranteed fail. Once the levels ramp up in difficulty, we found ourselves hitting that reset button over and over at the first hurdle as you just know that one slight error kills your efforts. We appreciate that the game is trying to capitalise on the enjoyment that comes from overcoming difficult levels in the genre, but this title is bang-your-head-against-a-wall hard.
Difficulty isn't necessarily an issue in itself, but the game does a poor job of letting you know if you're doing well or not. After a few slightly confusing tutorial levels you think you know your way around, but in practice, it doesn't always work. The main mechanic (alongside well-timed tricks) is letting go of accelerate at the right time on a ramp, to then get back on the power once you think you're ready to land. The game never lets you know if you've timed a jump right, and could really do with some sort of visual or audio cue to inform the player that they've nailed it. There is a sort of swoosh effect on screen when landing with momentum, but this graphic is inconsistent in letting you know if you've done enough. At times if we got the swoosh it meant we'd carried enough speed, but in other instances, it wasn't enough and meant we had no way of correcting ourselves before meeting our unfortunate demise at the next ramp.
Visually the game works well enough but it still does little to set itself apart from a "stock" animated look, and the first two areas have a very similar style. We emphasise these because we struggled to get past those initial stages in Pumped BMX Pro, and we imagine most of you will too such is the severity of the challenge. The audio is also incredibly repetitive, as a set of looped beats are all that accompany you on your journey. In all honesty, we just turned the audio off after a while as it doesn't pair too well with the constant level restarts. The BMX design also leaves something to be desired, as the only variety is paintwork alterations and as far as we can tell, all the bikes handle the same.
As an overall package, Pumped BMX Pro offers little to counter its frustrating difficulty. As a game it works and it's presented well enough for what it is: a fairly basic 2D BMX game. However, the game's structure means that unless you're extremely dedicated or love to be punished, you won't see what the game has to offer beyond its first two areas, as content in career mode is gated off and there is no arcade mode to speak of. The trick system is the highlight of the gameplay on offer, but the awkward and unclear momentum mechanics meant that we had a hard time experimenting with them. There may be fun to be had here if this genre is your bread and butter, but for us, it never quite came together.
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