Trials HD is one of the best-selling Xbox Live Arcade games of all time, it has sold over 2 million copies, and it was voted Best Overall Arcade Game in 2009 by Xbox 360 players. The physics are great, the levels are lovingly crafted, and the replay value is enormous. Saying that Trials is a motorcycle trick game isn’t exactly disingenuous, but it’s not telling the complete story either.
At its heart, Trials is a physics puzzler where your avatar happens to be a guy on a dirt bike. It’s closer to Joe Danger than Road Rash, and it’s better for it. I’m not interested in racing, but competing for the best time here is all sorts of engrossing. There are a few warts, however, like the file-sharing system that requires you to be friends with the content creator since there is no central track repository, and that the learning curve is nice and smooth until it’s not. When you hit the wall, you’ll keep on trying to get over the same small hill and leave the game frustrated.
Trials Evolution iterates and improves on what worked well in HD, and fixes what didn’t work. In Trials HD, the rider was constrained to a warehouse full of deathtraps. In Evolution he’s storming the beaches of Normandy, riding through woodland scenes, falling down mountains and bunny-hopping through construction sites. Visuals are also improved and since there is so much more scenery RedLynx has had a chance to really beef up what’s happening in the background. Mind, you won’t have time to really look at any of the background scenes while playing, but it’s nice if you have company over and get caught up in the “just one more try” time sink that Trials is known for.
Single player saw two major changes from HD to Evolution, and both of them are for the better. The difficulty curve is more gradual now, but the end levels are still horribly abusive to the player. Why is this good? Because it means that there seem to be more levels around in this installment that I can actually complete. I probably won’t ever finish the extreme set, but the journey there feels longer, and I appreciate that the license tests that have been added go out of their way to explain advanced techniques to the player. I can and have taken those lessons back to Trials HD and performed better because of it.
Multiplayer is a new addition for the series, and is available in both split-screen and Xbox Live varieties. Multiplayer tracks are all distinct from their single-player brethren, and the whole affair plays out like a physics-enabled, maul-your-rider edition of Excitebike. You’re scored based on ending position and number of faults. It’s amazing how different the experience is when you’re forced to keep on trucking after a fault instead of restarting the entire level. It’s a nice change of pace, and I appreciate that the multiplayer mode feels like more than the single player one with a few more guys on the screen. Also filed under multiplayer is the excellent friends list and leaderboard integration. As you’re playing a track, a few dots will be riding along with you, showing you not only how your performance stacks up time-wise but showing some of the differences in play style as the dot traces your buddies’ route through the course. Every time I play or replay a Trials course, I find myself saying “Oh, Allforce saved some time by letting off the gas here, to hit the ramp there.”
The final improvement that Trials Evolution has over Trials HD is that there is now a user-created track repository full of new and exciting tracks for your to fault and eventually master. RedLynx posts their favorites if you don’t feel like wading through the entire list, and I can only imagine that RedLynx is looking through the submissions and approaching people with job offers because there are some amazing tracks out there made by people who are passionate about the game and want it to live on through the player community. Trials Evolution is better than Trials HD in every way, and I expect that I’ll keep coming back to it to sample user-created content and buy any DLC that releases just like I did with HD.
Pros: interesting track design, varied locations, immensely replayable, great track-sharing, smoother difficulty curve than Trials HD
Cons: the music isn’t my cup of tea, but I’m sure there are people out there who just love rap rock