I first checked out FutureGrind, MilkBag Games’ futuristic stunt-racer, one year ago at E3 2015, and the game has been constantly in my thoughts ever since then. That really speaks to the staying power of the title, as I often can’t remember what I had for dinner a day ago, but remember my first time playing the Trials-like game. Thankfully, I no longer have to draw upon memories that are a year old, as the developer was showing off a new build of the game at PSX 2016.
FutureGrind puts players in the control of a weird, robotic bicycle that has wheels at each vertical end of the frame (think of a unicycle but with another wheel where the seat is). These bikes are used to maneuver through obstacle courses filled with different colored rails. The catch is that each wheel on the bike corresponds with a different color, and the player has to continually switch sides to get through the course unscathed. If this sounds confusing, just check out this GIF and it’ll all make sense.
These different gameplay ideas intersect to create something that plays like Trials meets Ikaruga. It’s not just a rad idea, though, as it’s even more fun to actually play. Quickly jumping from rail to rail while rotating in order to be on the right side is thrilling, and it really feels phenomenal when you nail a one. This excitement, and the stress that comes with it, is only heightened by the fact that a single screw-up means the level has to be restarted from the very beginning.
The first level in the demo that I played, called Bunny Hill, felt a lot like what I played in 2015. I was using the same bike that can be seen in all of the screenshots below and in the GIF above, and it only took a few runs of having my bike explode into pieces before I got reacquainted with the control scheme. Once I remembered there was a double jump, the game became much easier, and I quickly beat the level.
Next up was a course called River Run, and I was in for a surprise when starting it. I was actually using a different type of bike, a feature I had no clue was in the game. This vehicle was heavier, and I had to put more care into turning my bike onto the right side. It still played ostensibly the same, but the small change in handling definitely provided a different type of challenge. This level also had a focus on different pathways, and I experimented going both up and down the area until I finally managed to beat it.
Finally, the demo ended with a very difficult level that was appropriately named The Gauntlet. This had me once again using the default bike, and it took several tries before I was able to clear the level. I never got too frustrated, as every screw-up was completely on my skill as a player, and I was learning the course over time. This led to a moment of ecstasy when I finally did complete the level, and was able to finish the demo.
While it’s great that the game still plays fantastic, I was curious about the game’s structure. Luckily, I was able to talk to the entirety of Milkbag Games’ two-person team about that. Developer Matt Rix told me that players will go through a campaign that will have players attempting to earn sponsorships by doing well on courses. These sponsorships are how players will earn access to new bikes, of which there will be several.
Unlike Trials, players won’t be picking what type of bike they’ll use for each course. Instead, they’ll use an assigned bike from one of the sponsors. Rix said this choice was so Milkbag Games had more freedom with track design, and could make each bike feel different from each other. That way only one bike has to be able to clear a course instead of making it so every single one could somehow maneuver it.
This choice does seemingly limit the replayability, but the developer is working in different ways to make it fun to return to stages. As mentioned before, a lot of the stages feature several different pathways, so figuring out the optimal run will give pro players something to do. On top of that, Rix told me that players will have to go back to levels they’ve completed before that have been altered with different mutators. I didn’t get a clear example of one of these, but it’s clear that Milkbag Games is working on fully fleshing out the ideas that FutureGrind brings to the table.