Back in the Summer of 2009, RedLynx Studios released Trials HD onto the Xbox Live Arcade. It was an interesting and well-received title, challenging players to navigate their way along increasingly difficult tracks by means of dirt bike. Unfortunately, between ‘Splosion Man and Shadow Complex, also released that Summer, I didn’t spend as much time with Trials as I might have liked, so I became excited at the prospect of correcting that error in judgement with Trials Evolution.
It’s hard to classify Trials Evolution in terms of genre. While it may look like a simple racing game, it’s really more of a cleverly disguised platformer. Played entirely from a side-on perspective, the challenge lies in correctly balancing your rider and rationing your speed as you bounce over jumps and climb hills. At first, it seems like nothing more than a modern day Excitebike – the only controls are gas, brake, and lean, but as the courses become more difficult and your bikes become more powerful, you soon realize there’s a lot more to it than simply landing each jump at the correct angle.
The physics are what really make this game stand out. The bikes feel heavy, and incorrectly shifting your weight will quickly send you head-over-heels or heels-over-head. However, that doesn’t mean that Trials is some kind of ultra-realistic biking sim – on the contrary, the developers have gone all-out on the level designs and humorous touches, creating a game that simultaneously feels down-to-earth and totally barmy.
As if motocross wasn’t dangerous enough, your poor biker must endure all manner of deadly obstacles on his path to victory – pits of fire, lakes of electric water, spiked balls, and many other equally nasty hurdles, creating one seriously scary ride. While these traps can lead to moments of frustration, they also help offset some of the anger you feel when falling off your bike for the umpteenth time on the same hill. After all, it’s hard to stay mad a character who’s just broken every bone in his body before being blown up by landmines and sent hurtling off the top of a 100-story building.
Things get even more crazy when you attempt the Skill Games, with challenges such as piloting a UFO, flying with wooden planks for wings, and even swinging between trapezes, Circus Charlie-style. In fact, this section was my favourite in the whole game, and it’s a shame there weren’t more of these zany levels included. However, Trials has one more brilliant mode that more than makes up for this….
The track editor! That’s right, your dirt biking fun isn’t limited by the number of official courses included by the developers, but by the imagination of millions of fans around the world. And what an imagination they have! Just jump into Track Central and prepare yourself for the most dastardly, over the top, downright sadistic levels cooked up by other Trials players. The number of customization options is huge, especially when designing the Skill Games – you could spend days simply trying out random tracks before you even get started on the game proper. There’s also a fully featured multiplayer mode, allowing you to go head-on with friends and foes alike on multi-lane courses.
While each mode has a distinctly different feel to it, one thing that doesn’t change is the fun. This is one of those titles that quickly sucks you in and doesn’t let go. That insistence on getting a gold medal, no matter how many retries it takes, is a testament to the addictive nature of the game. Sometimes the simplest premises lead to the most engaging titles, as you don’t need to memorise complex controls and combos, nor understand convoluted battle systems and skill trees. Instead, you have a few basic moves that take only minutes to pick up, but a long time to master. The fact that your friends’ progress on each track is clearly displayed as you play adds yet another incentive to improve on your times and increase your skill set.
To be honest, this is a tough game to write about. Not because there’s a limited number of aspects to mention, but because it involves pulling myself away from the TV and putting the controller down for a while! There are plenty of other excellent games that have been released recently, but so many of them have a definite ending, that point where the only incentive to keep playing is the promise of a few more achievements and maybe some hidden story elements. However, a title such as this one keeps you going because the sheer mechanics of it are so much fun. There are times to beat, rivals to challenge, and an infinite number of new tracks to download and master.
If you hadn’t figured it out out by now, Trials Evolution is a fantastic game. I haven’t even mentioned aspects such as the excellent graphics or homages to some of my favourite XBLA titles of recent years, but these elements are really just icing on the delicious, succulent, melt-in-your-mouth cake. Just make sure you fulfil any real life commitments before you start playing, as once that engine begins roaring and those wheels leave the ground, you can kiss your free time goodbye.