Cycling is an extremely underrated pastime, not to mention a wonderful way to get where you’re going. Sure, cars, buses and trains can transport you adequately to your destination, but there’s something about feeling the wind in your hair and pushing the pedals yourself that can’t be matched by any conventional road transport. Cycling is, to put it simply, a great time, and there are many of us here who advocate it passionately.
That said, there’s definitely a right and a wrong way to cycle. The right way, for example, would be to herald all the appropriate safety advice, making sure you’re wearing the correct headgear and joint protection, et cetera, et cetera. The wrong way would be throwing caution and safety to the wind and refusing to observe basic safety protocols, because that way lies certain disaster.
That is exactly the position espoused by Short Ride, a cycling game that comes to us from venerated developer GameTornado. Previous works by the studio include dinosaur rampage simulator Rio Rex and its sequels, adorable color-fest Jelly Truck and arcadey skating sim Skate Mania, to name but a few. GameTornado’s output is varied and interesting, but all of the dev’s titles have one thing in common: their central mechanics are simultaneously ridiculous and fun.
Of course, we’re not seriously suggesting that Short Ride wants you to cycle irresponsibly. Instead, the game takes cycling as its central conceit but isn’t really based on it; it’s a journey through a series of increasingly difficult stages, each of which contains several obstacles designed to murder the player in elaborate and horrifying ways. If you’re squeamish or you don’t like blood, it might be best to stay away from this one.
Those who remain will find a responsive, consistently entertaining and gruesomely gory journey through 20 levels of cycling hell. For a gameplay primer, think Trials crossed with popular online violence sim Happy Wheels; the gameplay is extremely similar to the latter, and the way the game has you collect extras to unlock new riders is strongly reminiscent of the former.
If you’ve never played either, Short Ride is basically a cycling platformer with a strong emphasis on its physics engine. Players control a cyclist using the arrow keys (the only keys used throughout the entire experience), balancing and orienting themselves with the left and right keys while accelerating or slowing with up and down. This is the only way by which players can move their character; there’s no powerups, no jump button and no fine control over the bike.
Short Ride’s movement and core mechanical loop are just fine without needlessly elaborate controls, though. The bike feels at once responsive and like its own beast, reacting to the slightest touch but never far away from simply throwing its rider off at its whim. Navigating obstacles is at first incredibly difficult; getting a handle on the movement is tough, and it doesn’t help that this game ruthlessly allows players to continue even when they’ve lost both wheels on their bike. Still, this is the source of much of the game’s humor. There is something endlessly hilarious about watching a rider struggle past a spinning blade with only the frame of his bike to call his own.
This game has 20 levels, and of course the difficulty increases across the campaign, but the curve feels natural and intuitive. Because the game’s movement controls aren’t excessively tutorialized, there’s a simple joy in learning to master the initially uncooperative control scheme. The pleasure you’ll feel upon completing your first course with no deaths is immense; Short Ride accomplishes the not-inconsiderable feat of making its central gameplay a dizzying cocktail of challenge and reward.
The game’s extras are somewhat bare-bones, which isn’t necessarily a problem. Each level in Short Ride has three stars hidden throughout. These stars serve both as the rating for the level and as in-game currency, with new characters being unlocked as certain star thresholds are met. The characters themselves aren’t anything special, although a few of them elicited a chuckle or two from us when we first saw them. They don’t offer any different modes of play or statistics, though, so it’s a largely aesthetic bonus you’re getting.
None of this matters in the face of Short Ride’s crowning achievement, which is the included level editor. Done with the campaign? Feel like designing your own sadistic murder course, or perhaps playing one designed by an equally sick torturer? Short Ride has a fully-featured level editor which allows players to place their own combination of level geometry, hazards and vehicles. It’s possible to export your own levels for the game’s community to play, which naturally means it’s also possible to import levels and play community creations. Short Ride is truly an evergreen game in this regard, with longevity well after its relatively short campaign has ended.
True to its name, the main single-player component of Short Ride is indeed fairly short. In the face of its addictive gameplay loop, endless community-generated content and fun sense of humor, this doesn’t matter in the slightest. Recommending Short Ride is a no-brainer; if you like fun, play this game.