Listen, I was a skater kid. I mean, I hated Avril Lavigne and I still do. I had a sick deck. I did the grinds. I played video games with the Tony Hawk license. What does this have to do with Pumped BMX Pro, you ask? Well, absolutely nothing.
Pumped BMX Pro is a BMX bike trials game in which you try to cross anything other than flat terrain on your bicycle while doing a bunch of really, totally very cool tricks and earning points for it. This will be your bread and butter and the essence of gameplay.
The game starts out by giving you a quick, yet very annoyingly designed tutorial. You are served dry and flat text-only tutorial message boxes in which you are explained how to do what exactly. You have to press A to pump, which in the game’s terms means going forward, but you have to press B to make the tutorial messages disappear. Minor annoyance. Further tutorials teach you how to do tricks and their variations. Screw it up and try it as long as you have to to get it right. Again, a minor annoyance.
After the first few tutorials are out of the way we can get to the nitty-gritty. Right from the start, you can play any of the levels in the first world, the Foothills. If you want to progress and unlock more worlds you need to beat challenges. Each level comes with four skill challenges, consisting of objectives like simply going through the level without doing a faceplant or doing certain tricks or even combinations of them without breaking your bones. Add to that a trick score rating, counting the highest points for a single combo, and a level score, counting the total amount of points collected in one level. For both scores, you can be rewarded with up to four stars, which also count towards unlocking new worlds.
And here lies another annoyance. In later levels, you can go through the respective level without bailing and not progress one bit if the completion of said level is no particular skill challenge, and if you haven’t collected any stars for your point scores. Just for emphasis and to recap: You can clear a level and make absolutely zero progress. Zilch. Nada. Ugh.
However, if you did make some progress there are a couple of new worlds to unlock, each with a different graphical background and more challenges in the vein of the previous ones. When you unlock a world you get a prompt about your great achievement and when you will unlock the next one, but only then. You have no way of getting a hold of that information after that other than maybe writing it down. Very weird.
Generally, the controls are manageable, albeit a bit bizarre. You constantly have to jump from the A button to the right analog stick and back and forth. No, the controls aren’t customizable. If you want to play this with your keyboard, just don’t. It’s a trainwreck. But hey, there are people who play Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy with a keyboard, after all. Whatever floats your boat, I guess. To be fair, you can change between these input methods on the fly seamlessly, so just give it a try.
The visual design in Pumped BMX Pro is very basic. You have your woods, mountains, your hot areas, nothing too crazy and nothing outside of the thematic comfort zone. The different playable characters look like they’re straight out of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater character creator and the bikes you can choose from are… well, they’re BMX bikes, what do you expect? Graphically Pumped BMX Pro is unspectacular, to say the least. I’m pretty certain my cheap ass Android phone could run it. You’re being treated to the bare minimum of texture, 3D model and animation work.
The sound design is unfortunately also very low on effort. The grind rails will sound exactly the same every time, including instantly cut off samples when jumping off, straight out of the last century. Your player character doesn’t even let out comical grunts of slight pain when falling straight onto his or her neck, never to stand up straight again. The music is so painfully generic, I had to turn it off, maybe half an hour into the game. Of course, it mitigates the lackluster sound effects, but that doesn’t make it any better.
Okay, so you awkwardly ride through these levels while checking off the challenges like chores on your weekly agenda, having turned off the music long ago in fear of suffering an aneurysm while constantly having to look up how trick #239 is executed right after starting up the level and receiving zero feedback of what the hell you are doing wrong if you just can’t make it past that one particular slope, slowly drifting into rage-induced insanity. How much fun is Pumped BMX Pro in the end? Frankly, not much.
It’s kind of a shame because some of the problems would have been really easy to fix, take the awkward skill challenge process for example. Just put the skill challenges on screen with the associated trick button prompts. That would have instantly remedied having to memorize the trick, then starting the level and then looking up the button press for said trick. Why pedalling mid-level doesn’t actually generate any momentum while on the ground when low on speed will stay an enigma to me forever, I guess. In these cases the character just decides that it’s time to fall down, after a few seconds, losing all will to BMX.
Counting up all these blemishes makes it very hard to recommend Pumped BMX Pro. The game’s mechanics are just not satisfying, representing the worst combination of combo-heavy games like the Tony Hawk’s series and the Trials games with their focus on traversal. The genre of the trend sports video game has been pretty dead for a while now and Pumped BMX Pro is not the desperately needed shot in the arm it maybe deserves.