Across its various incarnations, the Trials franchise has always been about putting obstacles in your path and seeing how well you can overcome them (with the help of an over-revved dirtbike). The latest and rather magnificent instalment Trials Rising continues this fine tradition but adds a globetrotting twist, casting players as a cross between Barry Sheene and Phileas Fogg by tasking them with riding fairly roughshod over some famous international landmarks.
But when you first fire up the game, there is another big speed bump in the way: two bikes incarcerated behind a paywall. It's that rare Trials hurdle that cannot be overcome by some improvised combination of throttle-feathering, mid-air rotation and a cheeky bunny-hop. To access the pedal-powered Helium or pocket-rocket Donkey requires dropping a sizeable wodge of in-game currency instead. (A brand-new two-player bike, the Tandem, is free from the outset, but that's another story.)
The steady flow of coin rewards as you progress in Trials Rising means that unlocking these novelty rides will always be a question of 'when' rather than 'if'. Comparable pedal bikes and mini-motos have also featured in previous games, so why squirrel them away in the first place? My theory is that it probably has something to do with easing the player into the Trials Rising setup, where a cascade of standalone tracks, stunt challenges and stadium motocross events bloom into life as pins scattered across the globe.
It takes a little while to get your head around this new organising framework, and since the Helium and Donkey both offer subtle variations on the core gameplay, it is probably not a terrible idea to encourage players to master - or indeed, remaster - the fundamentals before asking them to scale Stonehenge on the equivalent of a phlegmy, twitchy Deliveroo scooter.
Your mileage may, literally, vary but I still cherish these outliers. In my current battle with Trials Rising, I bought them at the first opportunity, boosting my coins war chest by taking a lead out of Marie Kondo's book and selling every bit of cosmetic gear I was awarded from loot crates. Unlocking the Donkey roughly coincided with the same inflection point I've encountered in every Trials game, that moment where the acrobatic demands of new tracks abruptly overshadow my skill level. Methodically mastering Extreme tracks can be tremendously satisfying but gingerly hoisting a Mantis bike up and over an absurdly vertiginous layout of scaffolding and explosive barrels sometimes feels more like safecracking than joyriding.
I think that's when the Helium and Donkey come into their own. Purchasing them unlocks a new series of contracts from an enthusiastic sponsor but you are generally guiding them through tracks you have already mastered. That often takes the sting out of the difficulty and modifies the experience into something more like sightseeing: what's the point in jetting around the globe if you're not going to take in the view once in a while? The Helium, in particular, suits this more chill approach since it strips away the usual incessantly protesting soundtrack of engine-rattling revs. That just leaves a serene whoosh as you slice through the air accompanied by the occasional tinkle of your bike bell during a smooth landing (or your avatar's scream as you horribly misjudge a jump and cartwheel helplessly down into a crevasse).
Admittedly, the Donkey is more of an acquired taste, since it looks, sounds and rides like the Crazy Frog reincarnated as a child's dumpy scrambler. The core bikes generally feel like they have enough inherent oomph to overcome most obstacles; your job as the rider is to simply hold on and give them the odd nudge when required. With the Donkey and its tiny wheels the size of Sara Lee cheesecakes, it feels like the roles have been reversed. The rider has much more of the power and all of the responsibility, dragging this protesting mule of a machine through the next absurd assault course. At first, it's frustrating. But like a pro goalkeeper sharpening their reactions by saving tennis balls, applying yourself to the Donkey improves your skills and judgment across the board. By that stage? You're ready to take the little fella on a road trip to Stonehenge.