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REVIEW / Pumped BMX+ (X1)

 

There are many lenses through which I could initiate discussion about this game, but I want to start with what for me is the elephant in the room: Pumped BMX+ is a port of a mobile game. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; many mobile games are greatly improved by the introduction of traditional controls. Still, this is not the high end of mobile gaming, and there are a lot of great indie games you can find for $10. Granted, BMX games aren’t too common, but is it really possible to recommend a mobile port at that price point?  Well, maybe. But is it possible to recommend this one?

 

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The first thing I noticed when I started playing Pumped BMX+ is how incredibly clear it is that we’re not dealing with a game made for modern consoles. The graphics would be at home on the original Xbox, and the presentation is bare bones to say the least. It looks like a lot of what you’d find on the Xbox 360’s indie games service. This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it didn’t fill me with confidence either.

Honestly, even for a mobile game these would be considered sub-par graphics. There are a few outfit choices for your rider, but ultimately not a lot of customization. The rider model is pretty low quality, though I can take solace in the fact that he looks a bit like me. Other than that, the game’s stages are split between 5 difficulty levels, and each stage has a number of challenges required for progression.

 

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Now we come to the other elephant in the room: Pumped BMX+ occupies a similar space to two very successful other games. These are OlliOlli and Trials (the entire series, but the most recent main entry is Trials Fusion). OlliOlli is about skateboarding, and Trials is about motocross, but the core gameplay is very similar. Like these games, Pumped BMX+ is a sidescroller. You hold down the A button to gain speed, letting go when you hit the tops of ramps. Your goal is to reach the end of the stage, pulling off tricks along the way to complete challenges. Doing so unlocks later, more challenging stages.

The gameplay experience actually works very well, and it does indeed benefit from console controls. The BMX theme allows for a lot of interesting and varied tricks, and the level design keeps things interesting. For the most part, the physics work well too, although I wouldn’t say they’re as accurate as the developer claims. I was pleasantly surprised with how polished the gameplay felt. Or at least, I was impressed until I reached the third difficulty level.

 

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In OlliOlli and Trials, losing momentum is never that big a concern as long as you know what you’re doing. In Pumped BMX+, it is your chief concern. In later levels, if you don’t start and land every single jump in exactly the right way at exactly the right time, you’ll miss a jump and have to start the stage over again. Not only do you have to land properly, you also have to stop doing tricks and hold down the A button to gain speed on the descent. This means that you can’t do any tricks, at least not until the last couple of jumps; you need to keep all of your momentum if you want to have even the slightest chance of completing the stage.

The developer says that this game was designed to be realistic; they make a big deal about how it was made by someone with actual BMX experience. I don’t know if this difficulty stems from that realism or just poor testing, but realism is not worth it if the game isn’t fun. There are also no checkpoints in any of the stages, so the only successful run is a perfect run. Some of the most infuriating situations I’ve come across come from ignoring realism anyway; if you lose enough speed during a stage, even if you’re somewhere that you could easily regain some of it, the stage will end. You could be at the crest of a hill, about to gain a huge amount of momentum, and the game will stop you if your speed goes too low right before you start going downhill. Suddenly I know how Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves felt in that movie.

 

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What makes this even more disappointing is that Pumped BMX+ has a top notch trick system. The left stick handles flips like in Trials, the triggers handle spins, and the right stick handles the rest. There’s a much bigger variety than in OlliOlli or Trials Fusion, and it’s easy to come up with some truly exciting combos. But again, performing tricks means sacrificing momentum, so you have to spend most of the stage avoiding them. This game squanders its greatest resource, and I can’t explain how disappointing that is. The early levels are tons of fun, and really addictive when you get into it. But with the third section, everything falls flat.

Now, I realize there is a possibility that my trouble playing this game simply comes down to my own lack of skill. Most of the feedback towards this game has been very positive, so there must be something I’m missing that others see. But even if that’s the case, it doesn’t excuse the forced restarts that you have to endure when you lose speed. Additionally, the difficulty spikes way too early, catching the player off guard and blocking off most of the stages from all but the most dedicated. Maybe that works in Dark Souls, but this is not Dark Souls. Even if you’re a pro, the challenge being offered isn’t worth the trouble of beating it.

 

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The official description of Pumped BMX+ uses language that suggests the publisher believes this to be the “real” experience, the Skate to OlliOlli‘s Tony Hawk. But besides the previously listed reasons why it isn’t as realistic as it claims to be, this game does nothing to justify such a self-assured attitude. Realism and difficulty are nice, but the challenge has to feel fair. It has to feel like if I keep trying, I’ll eventually succeed. And considering how much time I spent on this third difficulty level without a single success, this is not the BMX game that fans of the sport are looking for.

I understand if it seems unfair that I’m judging this game against two bigger budget competitors. But ultimately, these three games are very similar, and they are directly competing for your money. Developers Yeah Us! and Curve Digital accepted this when they decided to port the game to consoles. I would never make these comparisons about the $3 mobile version. Indie games can succeed on consoles, but they need to be able to hold their own against the sea of other games on the same platform.

 

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Here’s the bottom line. Pumped BMX+ costs $10. For $3 more, you can get OlliOlli. For $10 more, you can get Trials Fusion. If you want this kind of game, get one of those. If you’re on a budget, note that they both go on sale fairly often. Heck, get an older Trials game; they don’t have tricks, but overall they’re still miles ahead. I can’t think of any good reason to buy this game over any of those. The only thing that makes Pumped stand out is the trick system, and the game is designed in a way that squanders it. There’s enough content that it might be worth buying Pumped at half its current price, but as it stands now, it’s just a waste.

 

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