There’s a whole lot of Xbox LIV(E)ing going on in Elrood land these days. Since Mass Effect no retail game has struck me as must play but some of the Xbox Live exclusives that MS is pumping out these days are well worth the time. Remember when the first piece of DLC hit Xbox Live, which was horse armor for Oblivion? How far we’ve come. Two games have hit in the past week that deserve some attention. The old school graphics with new school weirdness Fez and the insane physics happy dirt bike racing sequel Trials Evolution. Silly hats only from this point forward!
Oh Fez, how to even explain you. So you start as this white as a ghost with a huge head dude named Gomez. He lives in a small village in 2D. The other white huge headed villagers all agree that being in two dimensions is pretty much the greatest thing ever. Gomez tends to agree….until a rip in space time opens a portal to the unknown. Out of this portal comes a Fez. Yes, the hat. It lands upon Gomez’s head (very dramatic) and thus he is now able to move BEYOND the realm of 2D and into 3D. Kind of.
The game plays mostly like a side scrolling platformer, except the power of the fez enables you to turn the levels to any of their four sides. So imagine a cube, Gomez walking on one side, you turn to the other. However, unlike reality, Gomez does not stay on his side. He turns the world but then he turns with it, which means he ends up on the new side…so the placement of platforms might be different. Or a door might appear. Honestly, it’s kind of confusing in that it’s a little like an Escher painting. It’s not realistic in how you think a 3D world should be, it’s how a 2D world would behave….if it was IN 3D. Got that? Me either, but it’s fun!
The goal is to find cubes, which can be found hiding in various places or by collecting bits of them, 8 pieces being one. Cubes are the key to everything, literally, as doors to additional worlds are unlocked based on the number of them you have. The platforming is pretty basic, Gomez can basically just jump and climb certain areas. The challenge is figuring out the tricky level design to reach places with no obvious way to reach. Maps, keys, and other strange items are also acquired, serving their standard purpose in such games. The sense of humor here shines through, which the background constellations being Tetris pieces, or you’re sort of amorphous guide…blob saying “Hey, listen!” in true Zelda fashion when he wants to tell you something. (Or him saying he has no idea what you should do and you should just figure it out for yourself. Jackass.) I highly suggest Fez to anybody who fondly remembers the joys of past gaming eras. Fez has that same feel, but with enough new and unusual things to show that just because the graphics may be measured in bits, the game is greater than the sum of its parts.
It was only last week that I finally got around to writing about Trials HD. Trials Evolution takes that formula and takes it to some WILD places. The mechanics of the game remain unchanged from the original; ride a dirt bike from one of a track to the other as fast as possible while overcoming various ramps, pits, obstacles, barrels of explosives, etc. While the first Trials was all confined to warehouse type spaces that were pretty dark and gloomy, Trials Evolution makes in immediate impression by its color. The first level is…wait for it….OUTSIDE! The locations now widely vary. War torn beach heads, lumber mills, gas stations, levies, a roller coaster, caves, a few warehouses….if you could conceivably put a dirt bike track on it, it’s in here. The tracks are also much bigger in what they’re doing, with a few jumps being hundreds and hundreds of feet in the air. The camera does an impressive zoom out to take this all in and it’s so nice looking that you’ll sometimes forget you’re still in control of the tiny flipping figure and end up landing on your face.
Speaking of landing on your face, the Trials tradition of killing you at the end of every track continues in full force here. In strangely hilarious ways. Have missiles shot at you? Check. A submarine torpedoes the boat you end up on? Check. You hit a small ramp and end up flying off your bike into the moon? Check. It’s silly, it’s insane, and it’s a nice reward for reaching the end of a level. One small thing that really stood out to me was the addition of a “ghost” dot for your best time through a given course. Replaying a track will result in a small yellow dot with your gamertag above it moving through the course which represents the best run you’ve had. It’s a small thing yes, but being able to always see in real time how close you are to setting a new record only adds to the “one more run” feeling of the game.
Developer Red Lynx has also added multiplayer to the mix. One mode has four racers going at the same time in specially designed four lane tracks. While no direct interaction with the other players is possible (can’t reach out and punch them or anything) it is fun to see others racing alongside you and the longer everybody goes without screwing up the higher the tension gets. Plus it’s quite satisfying to see somebody completely wipe out on a jump that you nailed. Another mode has four people at once racing on one of the single player tracks, but you only see the other as ghosts. It’s cool to know you’re racing people, but in practice it just kind of messes me up visually when there’s so much activity going on the screen.
In short, if you’re a fan of Trials HD, Trials Evolution is flashier, bigger, has more tracks, more content, and a better user interface. There’s no reason to not pick it up.