In this world of games that are filled with tutorials, guides that hold your hand through half of the product, rewards for every little thing you do and achievements that rain down from the skies for going into an options menu, it's rare to see a title that bucks that trend. Pumped BMX+ is one such game and heavens, it's a refreshing approach.
From the get-go, you kind of get the feeling that things aren't going to be plain sailing in terms of the difficulty level. There is a tutorial here which touches briefly on what you can do and the optimal ways to approach each stage but after that, you're on your own. You'll learn that even though your BMX has pedals, the premise of the game is that you can only pedal to start the course. After that, you have to "pump" the bike in order to pick up any sort of speed. It may sound dodgy to the layman, but pumping the bike is essentially the process of inflicting gravity on it while it's in the air, so that it speeds to earth after a jump to cause it to bolt down a ramp or hillside faster. Getting this right means that you're fired down the ramp, up the other side, and will have enough momentum to reach or negotiate the next obstacle. Get it wrong and you'll fall short, ending your run. All of this is done with deft presses of the A button. Hold it down to pump the bike, let it go to let physics take their natural course. It couldn't be simpler, although it's tricky to get just right.
Mixing things up are the tricks that you must master and the challenges that you must beat in order to truly complete things. Tricks are carried out with the sticks. The right stick is used to access the various tricks themselves, the left rotating the bike freely for backward and forward flips, with triggers initiating spins and the bumpers acting as a modifier to pull off more difficult right-stick acrobatics. A Tony Hawk's Pro Skater-style checklist with four targets appears at the start of each level and you pick up one check for reaching the end of the stage, a second for getting a set score, a third for getting a set individual trick score, and a final one for pulling off a specific trick (or combination) as part of a completed run. Three checklists exist per stage – easy, medium, and hard – and while the easiest may introduce you to a 720 spin, the medium one will push you to carry out a 720 spin into a nose manual, and the hardest will extend that further and task you with hitting the 720 spin into a nose manual, followed by a Superman. This gradual ramping up of difficulty on each stage is one of the absolute keys as to why Pumped BMX + is so darned addictive. You could do the 720, and you could do the 720 into the nose manual, so surely it's only one or two more runs before you manage to add that Superman to the mix as well, right?
Wrong. Often, things are a lot harder than they seem, mainly due to the intricacies of the momentum system. You may see a gap that's perfect for your designated target combination and then find that if you do manage to hit that particular trifecta, you won't have enough speed to get up to the next section and complete your run. Not only that, but by the time you get to the third set of levels or so, you'll find that crossing the finish line is far from an easy task on its own, let alone when you throw having to complete a bunch of tricks into the mix. Each level feels like a new learning experience – again, due to the split nature of the checklists – where you master the complexities of the course first as you get the lay of the land and pick up the check for completing the level, then go back to take on the harder challenges.
Despite the checklist system's structure helping to introduce each level in a nicely balanced way, there's always a nagging feeling that things aren't set up necessarily fairly. When you complete your first run through a stage and bag all four checks to unlock the medium level, scoring 22,000 points in the process, it feels a little bit unfair to then have to beat a score target of 14,000 on your second run through. We feel that having all of the targets unlocked in one go would have allowed for more freedom for players when it comes to how they approach each level, but the set up that's in place is workable enough. It just occasionally feels a bit harsh.
Speaking of harsh, the achievements list is not something to take lightly. After our first three hours of play, we still hadn't unlocked a single one of the 22 on offer. The first you're likely to get is the one for bailing 666 times, followed by one for spinning 108,000 degrees, unless you specifically decide to try to grab the trick-based sets that task you with completing three very difficult tricks in a specific run. There's longevity here for achievement hunters, for sure.
Pumped BMX+ is a good advertisement for mobile game ports on Xbox One. Crafted with care and not just spit out onto the platform in under five minutes, the game is easy to pickup and tough to master. Despite the amount of gameplay addicted players will get out of it, a little more variation and the inclusion of any sort of multiplayer play – H.O.R.S.E. anyone? – would have seen it score higher, though there's plenty going on here to justify the price for lone players. Good fun.