Let’s address the elephant in the room, the Urban Trial series is superficially similar to the Trials series. Both utilise a 2.5D camera perspective and have you carefully control your motorbike to the finish line. Whilst Freestyle was its own game, it still felt like it didn’t stray quite far enough from the original Trials games. This time around with Playground the Urban Trial series has managed to find its own identity, without going to the extremes that Trials has adopted.
Urban Trial Playground seemingly takes place in a Hawaiian-esque environment, making for a nice shift away from the usual dull greys and browns common with this type of game. Even the two riders that you can choose from have abandoned the drab motocross style armour for highly impractical yet cool short and tee combos. All of this helps to exude the laid-back style that permeates the entire game.
Style meets substance here, as the gameplay itself manages to produce a nice balance between difficulty and accessibility. There are two different level types, score and time trial, which always come one after the other, consistently providing a slightly different playstyle and preventing the game from feeling repetitive. Both level types also contain (although not always in time trials?) bonus objectives that reward you with additional funds to upgrade your bike. Purchasing upgrades will greatly aid you when returning to past levels to improve your rating, as you’ll have a fast bike and one that is capable of pulling off more impressive combos.
The nature of the way the levels unlock inherently results in replayability. Gaining two to three star ratings per level will see you through most of the game, but as you reach the last quarter of the levels you’ll find the need to go back and replay early levels with your upgraded bike. Making time trials much easier and subsequently dominating once challenging high scores.
There are over 50 different levels to work through, although you’ll find yourself going through these quicker than you might anticipate. In part, though, this is thanks to the game fulfilling that sense of “just one more level”; clearly the game is doing something right. It’s just a shame that by the end – especially after replaying some levels – that you’ll feel like you have seen and done pretty much everything the game has to offer.
Unlike the previous Urban Trial games, Playground is a Switch exclusive, and for the most part, works well on the hybrid system. However, it was designed primarily with docked mode in mind, as in handheld the visuals take a notable hit, especially for the driver and bike. The framerate can at times noticeably dip a little as well, but thankfully never enough to compromise the gameplay.
Urban Trial Playground is a respectable addition to the Switch. The bike – along with its upgrades – respond well to your input whilst still retaining enough resistance to offer some challenge. Beating a previous high score is rewarding, but after a while, the degree of challenge seems to vanish once you have upgraded your bike a couple of times. On the plus side, you won’t feel the urge to through your Switch at a wall in frustration.