Trials HD is perhaps the least hyped of this year’s parade of arcade titles during Live’s “Summer of Arcade”. Proving that hype doesn’t always equal quality however, Red Lynx has unleashed a fantastic addition to the lineup with their Dirt bike/physics simulator. The very definition of “Easy to play, Hard to Master”, Trials tasks players with guiding their dirt bike on a 2D plane (with 3D graphics) through racetracks containing all manners of rickety platforms, exploding barrels, big jumps and (of course) plenty of fire.
Because sometimes simplicity trumps complexity, you’ll only need the two triggers and the stick to play most of Trials HD. Right trigger is your gas, left your brake. Tilting the stick to the left causes your rider to lean back, tilting ride causes him to shift his weight forward. As simple as the controls sound, the most difficult, and thus most rewarding, aspect of the game is in the manipulations of these controls. If you try and just slam the gas the whole way to the finish line in this “racing” game, you’ll be in a world of hurt before you know it.
The true stars of any game like this are the tracks, and the increasing complexity of the ones on display here is phenomenal. Even as the tracks get more and more difficult, I never felt like they were impossible. Each track, each stretch, each jump is specifically designed to be hit at a certain speed or angle. Early on you can make it through without optimizing your tactics, but as the tracks progress you’ll find it impossible to play this way. The accurate physics on display make conquering these deathtraps masquerading as racetracks increasingly difficult. Challenging you to figure out exactly how fast you’ll need to hit that jump to keep your speed up, when you need to brake to avoid overshooting that platform, and how hard you’ll need to tilt forward to climb that imposing hill of plywood.
If you grow tired of the numerous developer made tracks available, the game also features a full-fledged track creator. This editor contains a fantastic amount of depth, allowing you to send would be daredevils to their own motorized suicides any way you want. This editor allows you to not only place your own straight-aways and ramps, but the advanced mode allows you to remove ground and ceiling pieces, add environmental pieces like fire and different lighting, and place mid-race checkpoints along the way. Unfortunately, one of the few dark spots on the game is that these tracks can only be shared with people who are on your friends list. This severely limits the potential of the game to be a LittleBigPlanet style experience, and is hopefully something that will eventually be changed via patch.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of Trials HD is a fantastic leaderboard system that not only tracks the fastest times of your friends, but also gives you an onscreen indicator that shows you exactly how your time compares mid-race. It tells you whose time you’re closest to, whether you’re ahead or behind that time, and by how far. This indicator does more than just about anything to keep you saying “just one more run”. Before you know it, four hours have passed and xXL337GUY21Xx is still beating your fastest time by a half second. The replay value that this adds cannot be overstated, and it’s a must have feature for any future racing games with a leaderboard setup.
Even if Trials contained only the racing and creation modes it would be well worth the price of admission, but that’s not all that Red Lynx have crammed in the game. You’ll also get 12 hilariously addicting mini-games. These range from hill climbing and ski-jumping; to more ridiculous ones like trying to haul bombs from start to finish without blowing them up or catching yourself on fire and driving fast enough to keep from burning up. These games range from better than average to fantastic and make the $15 dollar asking price more than fair for the amount of content present.
All in all Trials HD is a fantastic addition to the XBLA library and completely unlike anything else on Live Arcade. The game offers a superb amount of content and challenging gameplay that will keep you coming back over and over again. In a generation where success is often tracked by kills, Trials proves that the age old gaming staple of “beat your friends best time/score” is not only alive and well, but as addicting as ever.