2009’s Trails HD, by Finland-based RedLynx, was a simple, but punishingly difficult game. So difficult, in fact, that it led me to discover that I’ve got the blood pressure of a 75 year old – high and easily spiked. And yet, in spite of the pure, heart-clenching rage the game often made me feel, I loved it. Its easy-to-learn-difficult-to-master controls and robust track editor kept me coming back for a long time. Many others loved it as well – Trials HD has sold nearly 2 million copies since its launch, making it one of the top selling games of all time on XBLA.
With the launch of Trials Evolution, the difficulty has been ever so slightly reduced – just enough to make sure that if all you want to do is beat all the tracks, you can at least brute force your way through most of them. Of course, it won’t be pretty, and if you want to chase Gold or Platinum medals, you’ll still need the uncanny precision and steel resolve required by Trials HD. When you factor in local and online multiplayer, and an even more robust track editor, you’ve got a sequel that trumps its predecessor in literally every way.
The simplicity of the core gameplay of Trials Evolution remains unchanged from its predecessor. Right trigger for gas, left analogue stick to shift your weight on the bike. It’s an easy set up to learn, but an incredibly difficult one to master. You’ve also got a reverse/brake on the left trigger and pressing the Y button bails your rider from the bike, but you won’t be getting much use of those two functions on a normal track. The feel of the bikes is the same as it ever was, so Trails HD veterans should have no trouble jumping back in and getting their bearings.
Likewise, the goal of the game remains unchanged. Ride from left to right, attempting to best an increasingly challenging set of obstacles on your way to the finish line. One thing that has changed is that the racing line is no longer straight by necessity. You’ll find that it sometimes curves, veering you out of the way of objects that seem impassable, sometimes twisting around in ever tightening circles. It’s a little tricky to get the hang of, and it can sometimes be difficult to judge exactly where you’re going to end up.
The level design in general, however, has been taken to impressive new heights, thanks to the inclusion of outdoor environments and much more creativity in general. It’s a pretty striking difference, as Trials HD’s environments were all confined to the inside of a warehouse. Now you’ll see sweeping vistas stretching out for miles, jets zooming around in the background firing missiles, you’ll storm the beach at Normandy, there’s even a Limbo themed level complete with fixed camera angle and monochrome color scheme.
While pretty much every track is good in its own way, some are incredibly creative and stand out above the rest. One level starts off like it came straight out of Inception. it’s called Mind Bender, and for good reason – it’s got shifting gravity, buildings floating past your head, giant walls of water, rotating sections – it’s insane, and more importantly, it’s insanely cool. But this is just one example of the creativity on display in Trails Evolutions’ levels. There are about 60 tracks, and though it won’t take too long to blast through most of them, going back to get good medals will take considerably longer.
For series veterans, Trials Evolution will probably feel a little bit easier, and that’s because it is. The average player won’t have a ton of trouble with any of the Beginner, Easy, or Medium level tracks. Even the Hard tracks can mostly be overcome by sheer brute force, though these are where you’ll generally be required to show a bit of finesse as well. But anyone who thinks Trials has gone soft on them need only play the game’s assortment of Extreme tracks. They’re every bit as hair-pullingly difficult as the toughest tracks in Trials HD, and in some cases, even moreso. Prepare to spend inordinate amounts of time on these tracks if you’re hoping to score decent medals out of them.
As you win races and earn medals, you’ll also open up license tests, which serve as tutorials to help educate players about the obstacles they’re likely to see from that point forward. Thankfully, those already well versed in Trials’ particular brand of challenge can opt to skip through the checkpoints to end the level quickly. Winning medals also earns you money, which can them be spent on various cosmetic upgrades for your rider and various bikes. New helmets, jackets, boots, wheels, handlebars, etc., let you give your bike and rider a more personalized look. It’s not particularly substantial, but it works well enough and helps to create the sense that you’re earning something more than medals for your victories.
In addition to the more standard sort of racing, Trials Evolution brings back the Skill games – wacky, over the top mini-games that often change up the gameplay completely. They are hit and miss, however, with some being much more fun than others. The UFO event, for example, has you flying an alien space craft and landing in various places, and it’s a lot of fun. On the other hand, you’ve got games like S.P.H.E.R.E. which has you rolling a large metal ball around an obstacle course. It’s just slow and not particularly fun. The variety is nice, though, and the best part is, if you don’t like what’s offered by default, you can make your own strange Skill Games in the heavily upgraded Track Editor.
Trials HD’s track editor was pretty deep, but limited by memory constraints, and the fact that the developers clearly had a superior set of tools to use on their end. Not so in Trials Evolution – the new track editor is exactly the one Redlynx has been using themselves. It is mind-bogglingly robust, especially for a $15 title, yet it’s actually even easier to use now. Instead of just providing you with a bunch of triggers, nodes, and events, without any clear sense of how to use them, the new editor includes a number of pre-made example events that you can implement into your own track. It really helps you to learn what the different types of events do and how to trigger them.
There have been more subtle interface tweaks made to the new editor as well. You can now group objects together without going through the hassle of gluing them (though glue is still an option), and you can now save grouped objects as favorite presets for use later. Other additions like an area selector make it much easier to grab multiple objects at a time, and just goes a long way toward making the entire thing much more usable overall. If you’re having trouble wrapping your brain around its multitude of options, Redlynx has also got an entire, 32 episode tutorial series on Youtube to teach you its inner workings. The editor is so robust now that the old cliché, “the sky’s the limit”, isn’t even accurate. You’re only limited by your own imagination, or lack thereof.
In addition to the editor itself being vastly improved, so to is the method for finding and sharing custom tracks. In Trials HD, you could only share tracks with other people on your friends list. In Trials Evolution, there’s an entire marketplace not unlike the one you’d find in LittleBigPlanet. It’s separated into a number of categories, such as Redlynx Picks, Most Downloaded This Week, and Highest Rated. You can rate each custom track, and they all have their own leaderboards as well, making for a much more usable system for sharing your creations.
New to Trials Evolution is the addition of local and online multiplayer, and I’m happy to report that it’s a lot of fun. When playing locally, you and up to three friends compete on Supercross tracks (that is, tracks with 4 lanes) and get docked a point each time you wipe out. They’re mostly fairly easy tracks, designed to be accessible, though there are currently some tougher ones available for download if you so desire. You can organize tournaments of up to seven tracks, each with multiple heats, and it makes for a great time with your friends or at parties.
Things work a little differently online. You can create a private match, setting all the parameters yourself, or you can brave the game’s matchmaking system and play on random levels with random people. You have four options to choose from here – Quickmatch, Supercross, Trials, and Hardcore Trials. Supercross is the same sort of four-lane racing mentioned in the previous paragraph. Trials and Hardcore Trials, however, have everyone racing on a single track, only the other players appear as ghostly apparitions. As you win races, you will level up, though aside from unlocking Trials and Hardcore Trials mode at levels 2 and 6 respectively, the leveling doesn’t actually serve much purpose aside from providing a basic sense of progression.
Trials HD was an incredibly popular game, selling nearly 2 million copies since its release. Trials Evolution appears to be on the same track, selling over 40,000 copies overnight when it launched, and acquiring another 140,000+ players since then. As you might imagine, this has put some strain on the game’s servers. Sometimes, the leaderboards won’t work at all, forcing you to abandon your score. Similarly, the online matchmaking can sometimes move incredibly slowly, taking several minutes to find even a single rider. I was assured by the developers, however, that the issue is being addressed, and things are working much better even now than they did on launch day.
Trials Evolution is as complete a package as you’re ever likely to find on Xbox Live Arcade. The sheer breadth and variety of its content puts many $60 retail games to shame, making its $15 price tag seem downright cheap by comparison. It’s a fantastic value and a fantastic game, one that any racing fan or fan of purely skill based games should not miss.
Trials Evolution was released on April 18th, 2012 exclusively for Xbox 360.