A while back, Microsoft began advertising their XBLA “Summer of Arcade” all over the place, kicking it off with ‘Splosion Man and ending it with Shadow Complex. When I saw the “box art” for Trials HD nestled between images of human explosions and High-Def mutant amphibians, it annoyed me. Here were four great games, with potential room for a fifth, but then someone had to go and shoehorn a dirt bike game in there. Sheesh!
I resolved to ignore Trials HD and just enjoy the titles I already purchased, as there were still a few weeks until the time when that final release I’d been salivating over would be mine. Best laid plans and all that. By the time Trials HD was available, my tune had changed slightly. I figured, “What the heck, it’s free to try the demo.”
It’s not often that a game catches me completely off guard, but Trials HD managed to do just that. What I imagined as a mediocre dirt bike racer turned out to be some sort of brilliant love-child between Excitebike and LittleBigPlanet. I’m aware (now) that there have been a few previous Trials flash games, but at the time it was all totally new to me.
The basic idea behind Trials HD is getting your rider from the start of the track to the finish. You can accelerate, brake and shift your rider’s weight either forward or backward in order to spin the bike. What really makes the game interesting (and throw-your-controller-across-the-room infuriating) are the tracks themselves. They can range from tame, to crazy, to surreal, to mind-bendingly difficult and back again. Throw in realistic physics and some potential traps and tilting platforms and you have yourself a party.
Starting out, there isn’t much challenge. The Beginner tracks are mostly about learning the basics. Sticking the landings are about the toughest trick to master. Once you move into the Medium tracks, you’ll see an inkling of how tricky things can get. Before you know it you’re doing loops through narrow openings, bunny-hopping over explosive canisters and being launched through the air by a rudimentary catapult comprised of steel girders and gravity.
I cannot stress just how unforgiving Trials HD can be on the Hard difficulty, much less on Extreme. These tracks are punishing. They’ll take you back to that special time in your youth when you would wish horrible things on level designers after your 20th failed attempt. To be fair, RedLynx has been fairly liberal with the checkpoints and you receive a bronze medal just for finishing a track, but sometimes even that doesn’t seem like enough. Heck, I scoffed when I heard about the “500 checkpoint restarts” limit because it seemed way too lenient. Having completed one of the tracks on Hard with over 150 continues, I’m not so sure anymore.
Assuming it’s humanly possible to get gold medals on every track in each of the five difficulty levels, there are still Tournaments and Skill Games to complete. Tournaments more-or-less consist of the tracks you’ve already completed, but you have to play through several in a row and your time and fouls all add to your overall score. Skill Games take the idea behind the game’s more absurd moments and run with them. Challenges like carefully pulling a cart of explosives or purposely tossing your rider to see how many bones you can break are just as tricky as they are fun.
Visually, everything looks great. There’s an impressive amount of detail in the dingy industrial materials and the physics make for some very entertaining crashes. It’s not particularly varied (read: not at all varied), but what’s there works. As for the sound… Well, I suppose there are bound to be people who enjoy the tuneless “Rock/Metal” soundtrack, but I’m not one of them. Thankfully the music doesn’t overshadow the experience, but it’s still pretty campy.
Trials HD also boasts some really impressive online functionality. If you’re logged on to Xbox Live, the game not only shows you the best track times for everyone on your Friends List automatically, it also charts your progress with the closest competition along the top of the screen by way of a small distance meter and a couple of labeled arrows. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s amazing how easy it is to find yourself replaying the same track just to finally see your name in the number one spot on your Friends List.
On top of everything else, the game also features its own track editor. It’s very easy to put your own crazy contraptions together and punish your friends with them. There’s even an Advanced Mode for those who want to get into the really crazy stuff. However you can only share tracks with people on your friends list, which seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity. Being able to create and play tracks others have made from all over the globe would have given Trials HD a firm foothold in the online community. It’s rather disappointing, really.
Trials HD is a fantastic game. The vast number of tracks are all incredibly varied, the Skill Games will keep you busy for a long time even after you’ve somehow managed to get Gold medals on every course, and the track editor will still have you coming back for more. The later levels can be infuriating, the music is terribly forgettable and the gimped track sharing feature feels like eating a hot dog without the bun, but there’s still more than enough fun to be had by anyone willing to ignore the cliched “X-Treme” imagery.
Things We Liked: Tons of content, all of it fun. Challenging physics-based gameplay. Level editors are always a nice touch.
Things We Disliked: Replacing controllers broken due to some insanely hard levels. Certain obstacles seem “cheap.” Campy soundtrack. Watered-down level sharing feels like a missed opportunity.
Target Audience: Fans of the original Flash games. Custom map making junkies. Physics groupies. People who enjoy having fun.