It’s time for some more XBLA goodness! Trials HD has been around a while now but I feel like this is an appropriate time to talk about it considering that the sequel, Trials Evolution, is due to come out in a week. It’s a simple premise. You are a dude on a dirt bike. The goal is to get to the end of a course as fast as possible. What’s impressive about Trials is how this premise turns in to something that is not only addicting, but supremely challenging. This is an old school game with an HD sheen. And it’s also one of the most difficult games I have ever freaking played in my life.
I’ll start with the plot. There isn’t one. Moving on.
The controls are very fluid and VERY touchy, on purpose. Right Trigger accelerates, left trigger brakes, and the thumb stick controls the balance of the rider, meaning you can pull back to do a wheelie or push forward to keep the nose of the bike on the ground. This becomes very important because the game takes its physics VERY seriously. I can’t say that it’s realistic, since I have no idea how a dirt bike would actually behave, but it sure seems like it could be. It’s very easy to just flip over backwards and crash just by hitting the gas on a slight incline.
Crashing is something that is going to happen quite often but luckily Trials HD runs well enough that it isn’t an annoyance. When you crash all it takes to restart from the last checkpoint is a press of the B button. There is NO loading time for this. It seems like a small thing, but being able to hurl yourself at a tricky section time after time without ever so much as having the screen pause for a second makes a huge difference in making the game tedious vs. fun. The graphics too are impressive, with the ragdoll physics making even the worst moments of your riding career enjoyable as bike and driver both go flying off in various directions.
Crashing is not just falling off the bike. The courses themselves are over the top insane, as in piles of explosives lying around that will blow you halfway across the level and end in a brutal yet spectacular death. The jumps get massive, the falls get higher, loops come in to play….it’s good times. In a nice but macabre touch the end of most levels usually involves killing you in some way. Right across the finish line you’ll find such things as pits, spikes, panes of glass stacked in front of each other, a giant wooden post aimed directly at your chest, or even fire! Watching the poor driver get maimed in some horrific fashion is actually a nice little reward for finishing a level.
Aaaahhh finishing a level. It all starts so easy. The first tier of courses, called beginner, live up to their namesake. You’ll crash a few times here or there as you acclimate to the game but very shortly you’ll be shooting for gold medals on all of them and feeling like a champion of dirt bikes. The difficulty slowly starts to ratchet up though, to the point where the game becomes arguably not fun. This is where the old school gamer mentality comes in. The EXTREME courses that make up the end tier are insane. I can’t FINISH any of them, never mind earning a silver or gold medal. Now there are Trials HD players out there who can do these courses no problem. The game helpfully lets you check leaderboards and even watch ghosts of the top runs, meaning you can see exactly how somebody earned whatever time they have. But seeing hasn’t helped me much! There is a fine tuning of controls, balance, and just FEELING the game that I just haven’t put the time in to acquire. Some of you out there will no doubt become obsessed with learning that and will enjoy those last tier of levels immensely, but for me I don’t know if I’ll ever quite reach that level. I don’t knock the game for having those levels exist per se, but I do wish the challenge was more “good luck getting the gold medal on this one” then you’ll never freaking finish this course.” The final tier of the hard courses (the tier before extreme) I only finished after crashing 215 times.
There’s a track editor included as well that seems suitably complicated for those who are in to such things. I’m not a track creating kind of guy, although I was excited to try out some downloadable tracks. Sadly the game makes this sort of difficult, as you can only DL tracks from people on your friends list so there’s no way to just browse a big selection. I would have loved to see a track database with user rankings, it would have greatly expanded the scope of the game. As it stands it’s a tool that is there to use but it’s overly complicated to get into.
Don’t let the difficulty scare you away from Trials HD. Those middle levels hit the sweet spot of gaming, where it’s not so hard that frustration sets in but earning those gold medals seems just on the right side of impossible. It inspires a “one more run at that…” mentality that makes it well worth it’s XBLA price tag. I find myself firing it up and just playing a few levels when I have a bit of time just because it feels so damn good to pull off a loop into a jump and land it without crashing. With a few silly but fun mini games thrown in (such as towing a small cart with two BOMBS in it as far as you can into a track before you jostle them enough that they blow up) there’s always something to do.