I miss the arcade, despite only getting involved in its dying ebb. I missed the vicarious battles against mysterious initials on the high score tables, the joy of constant self-improvement, to the extent where I constructed my own cabinet after SEGA World and Southend's golden mile stopped supporting the newest games. But like many gamers, I found a new home on Xbox Live Arcade. Though Microsoft's online service is now synonymous with groundbreaking indie games (and rightly so), it also plays host to more traditional experiences that focus on leaderboard attacks and the thrill of beating someone you've never even met. Trials HD resonated with gamers when it released three years ago due to this simple fact, and its anticipated sequel raises the bar in every conceivable way.
Trials Evolution follows in the footsteps of Trials HD, and the core concept is very much the same. It may appear to be a side-scrolling motocross game at first glance, with simple controls allowing players to accelerate, brake and shift their rider's weight, but you'll soon discover a physics-based platformer stuffed with tough, cerebral puzzles. Working out the exact speed and balance to successfully land a tricky jump, hop over a chasm, mount a near-vertical incline or heave oneself over a deceptively simple obstacle is as much a feat of brainpower as dexterity, and the constantly-ticking timer goads you onwards to greater feats of agility and precision. Continually striving to improve your time and reduce the number of faults is an insanely addictive experience, not to mention competing on the leaderboards, and everything is absolutely present and correct.
But it's clear that Trials Evolution learned from its predecessor, and arguably from Hello Games' Joe Danger, which demonstrated that physics-based biking could be properly fun as well as challenging. Critically, Trials Evolution is balls-out, pulse-pounding, undeniably awesome fun for everyone, whether you're messing about, gunning for the top scores or spectacularly wiping out.
Trials HD quickly tied players up in visually drab and aggravating obstacles, such as lifting oneself over a stack of tyres or an uninteresting brown pipe, which deterred many gamers who simply weren't enjoying themselves in the early game. While Evolution certainly contains more than its fair share of hardcore physics to overcome, the first half of the game concentrates on pure adrenaline-packed thrills: enormous, insane jumps, visceral loop the loops and stunts that have to be experienced to be fully believed. You'll spend a fair few hours whooping and screaming in delight (and occasionally terror), hurtling through the air and desperately trying to stick the landing convincingly enough to avoid breaking every bone in your rider's fragile body. The challenges, from geysers to collapsible platforms, are much more varied than before, and present you with new and exciting opportunities at every turn. New players will instantly engage with the experience rather than being turned away at the door, despite myriad humiliating deaths, while veterans will pride themselves on perfectly approaching each obstacle and shaving precious milliseconds off their time. And soon, inevitably, the new influx of players realise that they've become skilled enough to compete on the leaderboards proper.
It's the perfect balance of accessible joy and hardcore, skilful technique: an arena where both newcomers and hardened fans will find what they're looking for.
Medals are doled out for time and performance (wipe out and you can kiss a gold goodbye), and once you've spent hours acquiring 135 of them along with the Trials Trophy, a new set of outrageous extreme tracks open up along with Platinum objectives for the initial levels. Instead of completing the game, you'll suddenly realise that the real challenge has just begun. Considering the enormous number of tracks and tournaments, Trials Evolution is exceptional value for money at 1200 MSP.
Competition is a key part of the Trials Experience, and Evolution does its best to ensure that you're always competing. On top of the aforementioned leaderboards and envy-inducing replay downloads, you can boast to your mates about beating their time, and race against your friends' performance with moving (never distracting) onscreen icons representing their attempts. And if asynchronous competition isn't enough, Evolution also supports 4-way motocross races that turn the once lonely experience into a hectic, fulfilling fight to the finish. The new fun-focused level design is perfectly suited for multiplayer, and it brings a fantastic new dimension to the package as well as adding yet more value.
And there's more, so much more. Medals and participation reward you with persistent currency to spend on new outfits and bike modifications, providing yet another compulsive draw to an already addictive experience. A bevy of skill games are great, if forgettable fun both on and offline, providing perfect party fodder. And in an amazing move, RedLynx included the full level editor at launch (the same suite they used to create the campaign), along with a robust social hub to download and rate levels. This means that Trials Evolution will continue to grow and expand indefinitely as players create their own content, bolstered by new levels directly from RedLynx. Hell, there's even an in-engine first person shooter.
In effect, Trials Evolution could last forever.
Criticisms are few and far between. Some of the hazards are occasionally a little too arbitrary and randomised for such a technical game (such as geysers that can affect your bike in unpredictable ways), and the camera occasionally shifts in a confusing, often detrimental manner. These changing three-quarter perspectives feel a little odd, and frequently make it difficult to work out exactly what angle you need to approach a particular landing. The graphics are also slightly fuzzy, though there's a lot more colour and variety this time around. You might think that I'm reaching for problems here, and the fact of the matter is that yes, I absolutely am.
Sorry, The Splatters, but your brief time as 2012's best XBLA physics game has already come to an end. Trials Evolution is the boss, and a worthy purchase to recommend without hesitation.
- Stupendously strong, varied, addictive gameplay
- Accessible yet technical, universal appeal
- Amazing value: lengthy singleplayer, compelling multiplayer and excellent level editor
- Strange camerawork in certain levels
- Occasional unpredictable hazards
The Short Version: Trials Evolution improves on every aspect of the outstanding original to create an exceptional, essential package. It appeals to everyone and anyone, whether you play solo, with friends or against the world. A fantastic effort that deserves your immediate consideration.