FutureGrind is a stunt bike racer/puzzle title from Canadian based Milkbag Games set just over 50 years from now. With the passage of time and improvements in technology, trials based bike competitions have evolved from simply getting over obstacles in the back of beyond, to sponsorship driven events where wheelie-ing participants perform tricks and transitions between glowing neon rails suspended above cities. Not only that, the powers that be have decided that each wheel of the bike is colour coded to the rail it can touch and landing with the wrong one causes the bike to explode. What kind of sports consuming sadists are we set to turn into, eh? Maybe Death Race isn’t so far fetched…
Flippancy on potential outcomes of sport franchises aside, FutureGrind is an intriguing premise that mixes puzzle and skill elements together. The bikes used (no matter what configuration they are in) are generally perpendicular to the track, gyroscopic and continually propelled forward, so the emphasis is solely on two things – jumping and rotating the wheels to hit the surface with the corresponding colour. Things start off simply enough with one colour surface to manage, then it expands to two, then a different style of bike comes into play, then colour changes are layered on, and so on and so forth. It’s fairly standard building block progression with both the bikes in play and the addition of items to the courses that prepare you for the challenges that are to come. It’s needed because this game is tough.
The tracks themselves are handcrafted to provide the maximum amount of variety balanced with level of difficulty and reward. Comprising of multiple beams staggered at heights and distances from start to finish, the aim is simply to survive the ordeal. Bikes have a double jump propulsion system, and the longer it’s held the longer it’s possible to stay in the air, so clearing rails completely is an option, as it transitioning up and an down between them. Rotation is needed for two things – getting the wheels in the right place, and spinning to perform tricks. The former is part of the basics of surviving, the latter is for when level objectives come into play or where you’re targeting a high score. Tricks add to the multiplier, as does successfully touching a coloured rail; and the more complex (and dangerous) the move, the higher the points haul.
Tricks aren’t just about whipping the whole thing around 720 degrees though, where the wheels are positioned on the rails also matters. Landing on a rail with a wheel is a simple manual grind, using jump to boost up and grind the bottom of a rail is an undergrind and nets more points. Transition between rails without jumping or boosting adds bonus points, and hanging from a rail by a wheel looks cool… and is worth a bit more too, obviously. The mechanisms in play are flexible enough to allow for some spectacular planned moves, and more than a few lucky ones, but it takes a lot of practice on not only the track, but the type of bike too. With numerous ones opening up providing a different style to learn, there’s even more variation on display than just changing up the track layouts.
Story progression is made by successfully completing the objectives for whichever venue is on the agenda. As already mentioned, just surviving a track is a skill in itself so that’s usually the first objective. Then typically two others open up related to a move set or score. No additional levels are available until all these are complete, meaning that if there’s a struggle to master the Gimbal bike (with one large wheel and one small wheel on a long arm) you’ll not see anything beyond that point. Fortunately the developers have realised that it is unforgiving and have included an easy controls options, though you need to dig through the options to find it. The only impact is on high score posting as well, so if it’s the story (and there is one) you want to follow through, there’s support there. Equally, there are some good colour blind options as well given that the whole game’s success is based on recognising them.
With a slick and clean presentation coupled with smooth and responsive gameplay, FutureGrind is definitely unique, even if the Trials Fusion vibes are too strong to miss. It puts me in mind of a great game for couch-based pass the controller play to see who can get through the level first, or nail the requisite trick to finish the objectives and open up the next track. Playing on your own though can be a bit of grind (no pun intended) – it gets hard very quickly with even the instant restarts taking a bit of the shine off; and there’s not a lot of encouragement to keep you ploughing on. It demands concentration, visual acuity and fast reactions alongside managing the physics of the bikes so that when you pull everything off cleanly it’s fantastic… it’s just it also highlights the moments where you’re trapped by your own ability.
A PS4 review copy of FutureGrind was provided by the Milkbag Games PR team, and it’s available now for around £20 on PC, PS4 and Nintendo Switch.