As a species, humanity is remarkably persistent. Some of the most incredible achievements in human history have happened as a result of sheer determination. The best of us don’t see failure as a barrier; instead, we see it as motivation, an additional reason to succeed in whatever it is we’re doing. It’s simultaneously humanity’s greatest asset and, in many ways, its biggest flaw.
Video games exist and thrive on this principle. Without the driving motivation failure provides, video games would be very dry affairs indeed. Games like Dark Souls, Shovel Knight and Castlevania would never have existed were we risk-averse or prone to giving up too quickly. Difficult games have a place on our shelves and in our hearts precisely because we love not only failure but learning from our mistakes.
This same principle applies to Short Ride, a game you can check out right now on Poki.com (and we’d strongly recommend you do so before you read this review if possible). At once wonderfully cathartic and incredibly frustrating, in a rather lofty way Short Ride represents the human desire to continue in the face of failure. It’s a consistently rewarding, difficult and smooth experience, with all the contradiction that description implies.
Let’s step back for a moment. If you’re familiar with Ubisoft’s Trials series, which itself has its roots in browser games, then you know roughly what territory we’re in for Short Ride. If you’ve played popular browser-based violence sandbox Happy Wheels, you’ll be even more familiar with the core loop here, although Short Ride is decidedly more restrained and less “madcap” than Happy Wheels ever was.
In Short Ride, the objective is to reach the end of the stage. Along the way, there are obstacles to surmount and extra bonus stars to collect which unlock new riders. So far, so simple, right? Of course, such a basic description sells Short Ride…well…short. The beauty of the game isn’t in its conventional structure, nor is it in the (admittedly funny, but rather narrow) selection of extra riders.
The joy of Short Ride is almost entirely in its core gameplay loop. The protagonist is a hapless cyclist who alights onto their favorite vehicle at the beginning of the stage, planning presumably to go for a pleasant ride and get some exercise. Along the way, spinning blades, giant mashers and death-defying gaps threaten not only to de-saddle our hapless rider, but in some cases to kill them completely.
Luckily, the rider is an insanely skilled cyclist who’s capable of taking even the most horrifying obstacle in their stride. The player has access to only four controls: the up and down arrow keys for acceleration and slowing, and the left and right arrow keys for balancing. Short Ride is a 2D game, so there’s no need to worry about the cyclist’s position in 3D space. Instead, the game is essentially a delicate balancing act, a test of skill and reflexes as well as patience.
Difficulty ramps up as you might expect over the course of Short Ride’s 20 levels – despite the name, this isn’t an overly short ride at all – but it never feels unfair or overtuned. That’s in part thanks to the responsive, fluid control scheme. At first, controlling the bike doesn’t feel great; we’d strongly recommend heading into the game’s built-in tutorial before you actually start proper, because it’ll tell you everything you need to know about the idiosyncratic controls.
Once you’ve got a handle on it, though, Short Ride becomes an insanely satisfying game, at once challenging and rewarding without ever feeling unfair. Passing each obstacle becomes a mini-challenge in itself, and once you’ve done so you’ll congratulate yourself before moving on to the next one. Levels are perfectly-tuned collections of obstacles which complement each other, never feeling arbitrary or unnecessary. At first, you’ll simply be passing spinning blades and other relatively simple traps, but the concoctions GameTornado have cooked up for later stages will challenge even the most hardened gaming veteran.
All of this gameplay is wrapped up in aesthetically unique presentation that evokes the spectre of Happy Wheels without feeling beholden to it. The gore does feel a little excessive at times, but then again, we’re not sure how better to represent being crushed by a giant stone pillar, so we don’t want to pass judgement. The sound design is fine, but doesn’t leap out; it’s there to augment the experience rather than to surpass it, which is fine by us.
One or two little flaws don’t in any way stop Short Ride from being an exhilarating experience from start to finish. It’s a satisfying, cathartic and enjoyable physics platformer with a unique and compelling set of controls. Oh, and there’s a level editor, too, so if you do exhaust the main campaign quickly you can play endless community-generated levels. We call that a solid win.