Wildin’ out on dirt bike time trials in abandoned warehouses was made famous by Trials HD, a classic Xbox Live Arcade game that was extremely refreshing in a crowd of also-rans. Besides its fantastic graphics, the controls and online connectivity made it a mainstay for many. There’s a large bevy of racing games on iOS, but there hasn’t been anything like Trials HD, until now. Rock(s) Rider is a new extreme racer that unapologetically grabs cues from Trials HD. Does Rock(s) Rider sit on the same ramp as the game that inspired it?
The first thing that will slap you silly about Rock(s) Rider is the sensational presentation. The polish is undeniable, and the game shines brightly on the new iPad. The graphics are incredibly sharp with detailed levels and oodles of special effects. When you put your eyes on this game, you can’t help but think of Trials HD, even down to the close slightly-isometric camera perspective. All the levels are stuck in warehouse environments somewhat diminishing the impact of the eye candy, but you can’t take away much from the technical execution accomplished here.
Rock(s) Rider is packed with 24+ levels with various goals and criteria laid out to earn everything from bronze to gold medals. The main things to watch are how quickly you finish a level and how many times you crash. Pretty basic stuff. Earning medals nets you cold hard cash, redeemable for buying upgrades for your dirt bike. Each level ramps up in sophistication as you’d expect with all kinds of loops, jumps, and other hazards littering the road. Rock(s) Rider is fueled by a physics engine that is very sensitive. For as many thrills we got from pulling off incredible stunts, we probably had just as many headaches from some of the unintended consequences of the physics here.
The controls here are simple enough. The left thumb controls the body lean on the bike, and the right handles your gas and brakes. Rock(s) Rider’s finicky physics model will have you punching restart in frustration, early and often. You hit a ramp at a slightly incorrect angle, and you’re crashing. If you lean a little too hard while doing a backflip, you may get stuck in a crevice that requires a reset. Getting a good challenge is never a bad thing, but far too often our crashes felt like the result of a half-baked physics engine than lacking skill. To the game’s credit, you do learn the idiosyncrasies of the game’s flawed physics, but this doesn’t come close to level of control and consistency from Trials HD.
Now lean back, lean back, lean back.
Blowing through Rock(s) Rider takes about 2-3 hours depending on how much of a completionist you are. New levels appear to be on the horizon from DLC, so this game will have legs for at least the immediate future. There are also some extra levels allowing you to race on three-wheelers; the levels are unlocked from the career mode. While leaderboards and achievements are in, the lack of multiplayer or level editing is a crying shame.
Rock(s) Rider can be a good time if you have the patience to get through some of its shortcomings. It is a great graphical showcase; the visual fiesta even made our new iPad warm up considerably. With the promise of new content on the way, Rock Riders has the potential to get better with more value. While Rock Rider is not the perfect iOS equivalent of Trials HD, there is enough solid stuff going on to warrant a look, especially if you’re looking for a racer that is off the beaten trail.