RedLynx struck gold in 2009 with Trials HD, an Xbox Live Arcade-exclusive racing platformer built around the careful balancing of a motorcross bike through a series of physics-managed, reality-bending 2.5D courses. Sure, Excitebike beat Trials to the punch by about 30 years, but the newer game’s simplistic mechanics — you’re really just managing your speed and using the left analog stick to control forward/backward leans — belie the complex design of the courses you’re riding through. This week brings the long-awaited sequel, Trials Evolution, to XBLA, and that title couldn’t be more fitting. The new Trials really is an evolution of what we saw previously, with more tracks (and more elaborate ones at that), plus a full-featured track creator and multiplayer features of both the real-time and asynchronous varieties.
The fundamental core that was established in Trials HD hasn’t changed in the slightest. Your two trigger buttons are still gas and brake. The left analog stick handles the leans. The trick is to always feather the intentionally over-sensitive controls, gradually manipulating the bike into doing what you want it to. Push too hard in either direction, and you’ll crash. Apply too much gas or brake too quickly, and you’ll crash. Land at anything other than the correct angle… and yes, you will indeed crash. In truth, there’s very little in the game that you can do to avoid crashing, which is why you can also press the B button at any time to instantly zap yourself back to the most recent checkpoint.
Repetition is the key to success in Trials Evolution just like it was in Trials HD. The only way to unlock all of the tracks and bike classes is to score gold and silver medals in most of the events, and the only way to do that is to play each course again and again until you’ve got the pattern down. Medals are awarded according to the time you clock and how many times you bail, with most tracks dropping your potential medal down from gold after even one fall.
Fortunately, there are more tracks to choose from in Evolution — many more, once you factor in the limitless potential of playing the shared creations of others — and they’re all well-designed. They’re also set in a range of completely unexpected locations. There’s no small number of standard MX-looking environments, but there are many others mixed in that nod to different facets of our culture. One early track sends you wheeling across the beaches of Normandy, circa D-Day. In another, you’ll leap out into open air and see your bike silhouetted against a blood-red sky as wolves howl in the distance. In yet another, you’ll swear that you’re looking at the XBLA game Limbo. And that’s because the track is, in fact, modeled after that platformer. For a game with such a simple hook, it’s pretty amazing to see the level of spectacle that RedLynx has managed to cram in.
You’ll also see another thing while you’re playing: your friends’ names. Anyone on your friends list who has Trials Evolution and has registered a time on the course you’re riding will be represented in your own game as a floating ghost name that denotes their progress through the course. So you’re not only racing against the clock, you’re also constantly try to push past your friends as they go flying past you.
Beyond that, there are more unusual challenge levels that involve doing things like riding as far as you can on a course with no brakes while your bike constantly accelerates. In another, you’re actually piloting a UFO and trying to land it on a series of launch pads. There are tournament challenges as well, multi-course circuits that offer their own medal rewards. As you progress through all of this you’ll unlock new bikes and earn cash, which can be spent at the in-game store on various cosmetic items for your riders and his rides.
Then there’s the online component. The real-time multiplayer portion of Evolution feels a little bit half-baked, unfortunately. Available for both local and Wi-Fi play, you can compete in a handful of modes against up to three other players. Much like the solo levels, both your completion time and your ability to remain on the bike are being judged. Meaning that it’s not always enough to just finish in first if you’ve crashed your way across the track to get there.
There’s more potential in the two track creators, both a Basic Editor that is geared toward building traditional Trials courses, and an Advanced Editor that allows for more out-there concoctions. Neither editor is terribly easy to use — the controls feel like they would fit better with a mouse and a keyboard — but there’s a ton of flexibility for those who take the time to sit down and learn them. All track creations can be shared too, which means everyone can benefit from Evolution‘s UGC features, including those who never set out to build something.
RedLynx has done it again. Trials HD set a standard and this sequel raises the bar. The multiplayer feels like a bit of a misfire, but all of the other pieces fall into place very well. If nothing else, the so-so online play gives the developer yet another facet to improve upon when the inevitable third game is released. Trials Evolution is definitely worth your time, especially with the quick respawn B-button command fostering the ever-addictive “just one more go” mentality that only the most successful games can pull off.
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Microsoft Studios)