Trials HD quickly became the Xbox Live Arcade game that everyone owned in 2009. It was considered by many to be the perfect game for such a platform, and its sequel, Trials Evolution, has come along and replicated its success overnight three years later.
What Trials Evolution Got Right
XBLA Game of the Year? - Claims of “XBLA game of the year” may seem premature in April, but I’d wager that we will be talking about it with little competition come awards time. It grabs your attention immediately and infects you with an indescribable desire to better your own scores. That’s exactly what we want from an XBLA game, especially when it’s very reasonably priced at the same cost Activision sting us with for a couple of maps. This is what you should be spending your 1200 Microsoft Points on, children.
For anyone who missed the HD craze, Trials is a side-scrolling motorbike stunt game based around its advanced yet exaggerated physics. Your aim, generally, is to get from start to finish as quickly as possible without falling off. If you do, there are a number of checkpoints, so you don’t have to restart all the way at the beginning, but cripple your time for the convenience.
There are a few tweaks on this, such as being tasked with scoring high points, flying through the air, ditching the bike for skis and even navigating a ball through a challenging maze MoneyBall-style. While these still earn medals to progress and unlock new modes, they feel more like mini-games than part of the core experience.
Challenging - The challenge comes later in the game. At first, it seems coasting your way through events earning token bronze medals will be enough.
You’ll soon be stopped in your tracks if you haven’t earned enough silver or gold medals to progress, and there’s good reason for such frustrating madness. After a smooth introduction, the difficulty quickly ramps up before a gradual climb into the realms of impossibility. While it's nowhere near as punishing as Trails HD quickly became, the challenge is there.
Track design - Evolution really expands its track design by removing the shackles of a giant warehouse. Most events now take place in exotic outdoor locations, opening up a range of new obstacles to avoid, jump over and crash into. The levels are varied, with no two similar tracks put next to each other, and most importantly, feel clever with a sense of accomplishment when you blast through in record time.
Make your own tracks - The tracks included are all fantastic, but why stop there? Developer RedLynx has done the hard work, and left gamers to continue the legacy by including a track editor. At first, the editor may look a little complicated for every noob and his dog, and that’s because it’s the actual system the developers used to craft their masterpieces.
With a bit of practice, it becomes surprisingly easy to use, especially since the best tracks aren’t always the most overcrowded or complicated. The tools are there for players to infinitely create tracks just as good as, if not better than, those of the developer. The possibilities for replay value are immense, but only if a committed community forms around it.
What Trials Evolution Got Wrong
Customisation - Trials Evolution includes rider customisation, only I’m not sure why. It feels like it’s there just to offer a meaningless reward for effort. You can unlock new clothes and helmets for your rider, but who really cares what colour his head is? They’re not even close to being worth the effort it takes to unlock some of them, and it’s almost as if RedLynx forgot what makes their game so rewarding in the first place.
It’s worryingly addictive and does something most games don’t even come close to achieving: success in the game is reward enough. Beating your old scores and finally upgrading that silver to gold on a scale you can visually see is one of the most exciting moments in gaming. We don’t need any other token gifts as rewards for actually accomplishing something. Our success in the game is reward enough, and too many games never make it that far.
Skill games are mixed - As I mentioned earlier, the skill games that task you with different challenges feel more like mini-games than anything, but you’re still pushed to finish them. None of them really hooked me, but there are several you’ll never want to see again, deciding instead to take the bronze medal and run.
The Final Verdict
Trials Evolution deserves its early nomination for best Xbox Live Arcade game of 2012. It’s great value at around $20, considering its addictive nature and the potential for users to continue to make fantastic tracks long after a sequel has been proposed. Best of all, it does something most games strive for, but never achieve; beating your own accomplishments and finding success is the ultimate reward. The sense of satisfaction and achievement is unrivaled, even if it does take more time that you would care to admit.
By Ben Salter - Tweet @Ben_Salter