Trials HD: Popping a Wheelie on the Live Arcade Freeway
Throughout my life, the little exposure I’ve had to motorcycles of any sort is the X-games and a bike that my dad owned for several months. I vaguely remember playing several mediocre PS2 era motocross games, but nothing has ever stuck in my mind as particularly noteworthy. It is to Red Lynx’s credit that they have developed a motorcycle game that has lit a competitive fire in myself. Trials HD is a simple, yet devious physics puzzle that just so happens to be conveyed through dirt bikes, but isn’t so much for fans of professional motor sports. Instead, this game is more for people who enjoy conquering stiff challenges, perfecting time trials, or just blasting off some sweet jumps.
Trials is a unique “racing” game because it doesn’t focus on racing against others; in fact, there are no opponents or competitors other than you. You are simply tasked with making your way along the two dimensional plane to cross a finish line. Controlling your bike is simple since you can only control the gas, breaks, and weight shifts of your biker, and the 2D plane keeps your biker upright regardless of slope or bump. This simplicity couples with the virtual gravity and friction and creates a lot of depth to the game play. This dynamic physics engine makes every run slightly different and rewards those who learn how to follow its rules efficiently; smoothly entering slopes and quickly snapping your rider backwards then forwards on the lip of the jump will allow you to rocket through the air and can even throw you onto alternate paths. t
Some levels are designed to mix it up with dynamic track materials such as wood or tires, which can break, bend, or spin. These materials, and hell, even the regular tracks, require practice and a good feel for the game; in most tracks a split-second decision of whether to lean forward or back stands between you and victory. Nuance, in movement and speed control, often is the key to success, not blasting on the gas pedal. At first, you’ll likely choose the latter technique, but the excellent checkpoint system keeps punishment to a minimum. Checkpoint markers are abundant and allow for players of all skills to enjoy the game without (too much) undue stress. The levels start off slowly and acclimate you to the vast intricacies of the physics engine. But once you blast through the first 30 or so easy levels, the difficulty spikes and starts to put you through actual trials. These later levels really showcase the great addictive nature of this game. The feeling of accomplishment from conquering a 75 degree sloped jump and landing perfectly is paramount. Even if it takes you 50 restarts it is worth it. I come back to beaten tracks just to feel get that good feeling of running a track as smoothly as possible.
But what good is straining your patience for no actual reward, you ask? This is where the medals (bronze, silver, gold, and platinum) come in. Beat a level within a certain time with less than a certain number of restarts and you’ll be rewarded with one of the medals. This carrot on a stick method of keeping you playing long enough to achieve the next mark is amazingly well crafted. Excluding the hardest “Extreme” level courses, the requirements for the gold medals never feel too out of reach as long as you keep plugging away at it.
Oh but you don’t care for medals, you say? The slick friends leader board will keep you playing to beat your friends’ scores. This is the best integration of a leader board I’ve ever seen in any game. When you highlight a level to play, it automatically shows your friends’ scores and who is the best at that level. Then, when you actually start to play the level, a meter at the top shows your position relative to your friends. I cannot accurately say how many hours I’ve spent beating not just every score my friends made, but also going for gold medals, but I’m sure it is over 40 at least. It is so damn addictive to see yourself at the top of every level, and gives what is otherwise a solo experience a nice social aspect.
Some side attractions to the game are skill games and a level editor. The skill games are essentially mini-games such as pulling a bomb with your bike until it explodes, flying through flaming hoops, and breaking as many bones as possible while bailing out. They are interesting diversions that are not necessarily the deepest part of the game, but they are fun to check out from time to time. Unfortunately, the level editor is a poorly executed waste of potential. The editor itself allows for great designs, but there is no way to share your creations with anyone outside of your friends list. Imagine if Little Big Planet had done this! It is disappointing to say the least, because I know some amazing levels have to exist out there, but most people will never play them. If a sequel ever comes out, it has to fix this issue.
Regardless of the missed level sharing potential, Trials HD is definitely a model of how to make excellent use of virtual physics, leader boards, and motorcycles in video games. For 1200 Microsoft points, and 400 each for the two add on level packs you get one of the most amazing Xbox Live Arcade experiences available. It rewards nuance and control, while also being accessible to less devoted players. Even if you don’t care for motorcycles at all you’ll probably find something to like in this game. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some more medals to earn…