Something about a wildly convoluted obstacle course taps directly into my brain's pleasure center. Growing up, watching Nickelodeon game shows like "Legends of the Hidden Temple" made me painfully jealous. I was certain I could do better than those kids on TV. I knew how to put the Shrine of the Silver Monkey together . The dozens of enormous obstacle courses in 2009's "Trials HD" were no substitute for a temple run, but they kept me chasing platinum medals for months after the game's release. Although it was just a fairly simple $15 downloadable game, I played "Trials HD" on Xbox 360 more than almost any other game that year. Nearly three years have passed since its release, but its sequel, "Trials Evolution," has finally arrived.
The "Trials" games are 2D, physics-based platformers where players attempt to guide a dirt bike through increasingly extravagant obstacle courses, earning medals for speed and staying upright. While the premise may be unusual, the game is easy for anyone to pick up and play. The controls are simple: the triggers handle the throttle and brake while the analog stick leans the rider forward or backward. Challenge is kept to a minimum in the early levels so players can get a feel for the game's extremely floaty physics system. The difficulty level dramatically escalates in the later tracks, eventually becoming so brutal that the retry limit of 500 will become a regular stopping point.
With over two million copies sold, "Trials HD" is one of the best-selling Xbox Live Arcade games of all time. Because of this, developer RedLynx took an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach with the sequel. The structure and gameplay are nearly identical, but "Evolution" improves upon its predecessor in nearly every other aspect. A lack of variety in track environments was one of the most obvious flaws of "Trials HD." Almost every level took place in a bland warehouse, and few had any distinguishing features. Each track in "Evolution" has a unique setting, including some truly bizarre scenery such as a D-Day beach invasion. Unfortunately the level designers let their artistic vision get in the way of playability in one dimly lit level. A few areas were so dark I couldn't tell the difference between the ground and a bottomless pit.
"Evolution's" most unique addition is a simultaneous multiplayer mode for up to four players. Races take place on four-lane tracks that give the mode a strong resemblance to Excitebike. The multiplayer tracks are designed to keep everyone going as fast as possible for higher energy racing, but without any obstacles to conquer they are uninteresting to traverse. Local and online play are supported, but the races aren't engaging enough to make playing with strangers online fun. Competition with a group of friends huddled around the TV is what makes it worth checking out. Scores are determined based on how many times a player is forced to respawn, with each time costing one point. Crashing obviously forces a respawn, but what makes this fun with friends is that a player is also forced to respawn if they fall too far behind the leader. Having success result in the explosion of a buddy's motorcycle provides more satisfaction than the typical racing game can offer.
Track editors in racing games are fairly common. Track editors that can make whole new games are not. "Evolution" comes with a standard track editor, but for the adventurous type it also comes with an advanced track editor already used to create a space shooter, an "Angry Birds" clone, and a foosball table. RedLynx claims that the editor is even capable of creating a first person shooter. The fact that this feature was tacked on to a $15 downloadable game is astounding.
All of "Evolution's" new features are nice, but it's still the chase for medals and high scores that keeps me coming back for one last try. "Trials Evolution" is an incredible deal at $15, and should be picked up by anyone unafraid of constant failure.