Trials HD Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

Xbox Live Arcade
Release date:
August 12, 2009

Trials HD

Delicate touch of a surgeon on a dirt bike.

Review by James Cunningham (Email)
September 18th 2009

It doesn't really look like that bad. It's just a hill made of concrete pipes, after all, and while it doesn't have any kind of angled lead-in, it seems like once the bike is at the right angle it's just a matter of gunning the gas to the top. It's pretty steep but also very short, so how hard could it be? Lean back and hit the gas to pop a wheelie, approach the slope at the right angle, and, in theory, fly over the top. Or, more likely, have too much forward momentum and bounce off, flipping over backwards and having the bike land on your face. Alternate scenarios include hitting at the right angle with too much speed, causing the bike to do a full 360 degree flip, or succeeding in going up but without enough forward momentum to do more than fly into the air before falling back to the starting point and desperately attempt to keep the bike upright. Trials HD is not a forgiving game.

In fairness, the track that obstacle is found in is from the Hard levels. Trials HD is a series of 2D side-view stunt courses challenging you to ride a motocross bike from start to finish in the lowest possible time with the fewest possible mistakes, and while the early levels are kind and forgiving, as the levels get crazier it becomes increasingly important to understand how the bike reacts. There are a total of four controls to learn- lean forward, lean back, accelerate, and brake (which also doubles as a slow reverse). Everything else is technique, and there's a lot of it to learn.

The main reason for this is that only the back wheel accelerates. The front wheel rolls, and the brakes work on it fine, but unless the back wheel is in contact with the ground you're not going to go forward too far. Keeping contact is harder than it sounds thanks to the track design and some exaggerated physics, and it's not made any easier by driving like a madman to shave a few tenths of a second off the best time. Good control comes with lots of practice though. Eventually, you'll develop strategies to deal with the ramps, jumps, reverse bounces, where you need to do a back-flip to land on the deck above and behind you, bits where you need to bounce off a wall and drop straight down a few dozen feet, and even the dreaded box with no lead-in ramp that basically requires magical bike levitation powers. Every challenge in the game is possible no matter how crazy it looks, and the leaderboards are full of people who have somehow managed to clear each level faultlessly.

If that sounds a bit insane you'll get no argument from me, but the leaderboards have full playback of every entry on there. A touch of a button loads up a replay almost instantly, and there's even a display showing the exact button presses and timing the players used to work their miracles. These playbacks are available for everything from the easiest levels to the mini-games, and are a great way to figure out new techniques.

Once the main game is completed (and good luck with that) there's still plenty more to play with thanks to a full track editor, but there's a small hitch in the proceedings preventing Trials HD from attaining Little Big Planet levels of user-generated success. Created levels can be shared with friends over XBLA, and that's it. This is due to Microsoft's paranoid policy rather than any shortsightedness on Redlynx's part, but it's a shame such a great feature should be hamstrung so badly.

Other than that little issue, Trials HD is basically faultless. The simple controls lead to incredibly deep gaming, far more than is apparent from its basic premise. Figuring out the right mixture of balance and acceleration to drive up a ramp and do a reverse flip onto a platform without rolling backwards onto the box of dynamite, or riding on top of a giant free-rolling steel ball only to have to jump to another ball before finally seeing blessed stable ground, requires a very steady hand and nerves of steel. Formerly-impossible challenges start being cleared in seconds as the addiction takes hold, leaving you wondering how an obstacle was ever a problem in the first place. The practice necessary for this is made much more accessible by a load-free instant reset to either checkpoint or level's start, making it far too easy for an hour or two to slip by while perfecting a level and nabbing a better spot on the leaderboard. It's a long road to mastery, but Trials HD stays playable and fun for the entire trip.

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