If Excitebike made sweet, sweet love to N+, you would have Trials HD. There are motorcycles, and physics, and you will die, a lot. But is it fun?
In a word: eventually.
Trials HD plays a lot like Excitebike on the NES. You drive a motorcycle on a two-dimensional plane, and after every jump, you try to make the angle of your wheels match the ground so you don’t crash. The focus is more on maintaining speed with rhythm and timing than just holding the throttle wide open.
This is not, I repeat – NOT – a motorcycle racing game; it’s more of a physics playground. There are over fifty levels, and the goal is to merely get to the end without taking too long or crashing much. By completing levels, you earn medals based on your time and the number of “faults” (i.e. crashes). Almost every gold medal run must be flawless, so practice up.
Trials HD made its start as a Flash game on PC, and the simplicity of the controls reflect that. Only four buttons are used: go, stop, lean forward, and lean back (There’s also a “bailout” button, but it causes you to lose the level, so why is it even included? Just to show off the ragdoll physics?) Combining these four buttons enables you to jump over explosive barrels, climb nearly vertical walls, and flip around in the air. But it’s tough.
This game will force you to realize just how difficult it is to actually motorcycle over something. Travis Pastrana can do it, but he’s had years of practice. In Trials HD, nobody will be able to do it, at least at first. The opening levels are very, very easy, requiring little more strategy than holding down the A button for roughly sixty seconds. But the difficulty ramps up, and up, and up. Within a few hours, you will be doing double loop-de-loops over fiery pits into collapsible walls while fireworks explode inches from your helmet.
However, you won’t be doing this right off the bat. In the beginning, you will struggle to stay on your bike. Hit the throttle too hard? Crash. Lean too far? Crash. Didn’t lean enough? Crash. The first few hours of the game should have been called Trials and Errors HD, because that’s what it felt like.
The game gives little guidance and seems to expect so much, so quickly. Even in the tutorials, you can rack up dozens of deaths just trying to pass one seemingly innocuous obstacle. Luckily there are unlimited lives, numerous and generous checkpoints, and a quick level restart with just one button press.
You will eventually get better at steering, climbing, and jumping, and you’ll realize that when you do poorly, it was your fault. There is no random chance in this game; everything works on the laws of nature. Go back to lower levels after advancing in difficulty, and you will definitely notice an improvement in your skills.
Keep with it. When you get to the point where you actually feel in control of your leaps, climbs, and flips, the game is a joy. But it will still decimate you, over and over and over. Every time you figure out a new way to make a jump or climb a hill, the game throws something even more merciless at you.
Thankfully, the game is not too hard on the eyes. The “HD” in Trials HD lets you know that there will be some wonderful effects for those of you with big, fancy HDTV’s. The explosions and the flames are particularly exhilarating, and the headlight is realistic and a nice touch. This is one of those rare games that may even be more fun to watch then it is to play.
One note to those with standard TV sets: the text used in the game is tiny. Like, Street Fighter IV Training Mode tiny. It might be time to upgrade to an HDTV, or you can just ignore the (mostly superfluous) level descriptions. Furthermore, you can fully customize the colors of your bike and biker, but the standard “guy on a motorcycle” lacks any real personality.
It’s a shame the sound is not as enchanting as the particle effects. The industrial rock soundtrack is forgettable, like a public domain version of The Prodigy. Also, the motorcycle goes VROOM. It’s loud, and that’s about all. There is only one engine volume. You’ll be turning the Sound FX slider down shortly after booting up the game.
The voice of the the driver is fun though. Big jumps will evoke a, “Woo-hoo!” Crashes and being lit on fire cause him to yell, “OW!” or (my favorite), “Oi!” He is voiced by some of the guys from Viva la Bam, and it isn’t hard to imagine them in a sound booth, yelling pained noises into a microphone.
Besides the standard game mode, there are also tournaments, where you play 3-5 tracks in a row while trying to get a good time with a low number of faults, and, my favorite aspect of Trials HD, the Skill Games.
Skill Games are unlocked by getting gold medals in the standard game. They are basically mini-games, and they test one particular aspect of your driving, be it climbing, or balance, or speed. In one game, you just bailout down some stairs and try to break as many bones as possible, like PSN’s Pain. The scores are tracked on online leaderboards, and your friends’ scores/distances are tracked right on the playfield, giving you a target to beat.
Speaking of friends, you might want to make some. Trails HD has a robust Create-a-Level mode (similar to any recent Tony Hawk game). The catch: you can only share levels with your Xbox Live friends. There is no overall pool of levels to download from like LittleBigPlanet. If you only have one friend with the game, what’s the point of making them a new level? Still, it’s there if you want it, and it works. The lack of focus on making user-generated content a large selling point of the game is shame, and an unfortunate flaw.
Trials HD has incredibly accurate motorcycle physics and some near-impossible feats that you must perform within the limits of gravity and inertia. When you finally “get it,” you will feel like a god. Until then, however, prepare to have your gaming skills humiliated as you spend fifteen solid minutes trying to jump over a pile of wood.
At the end of the day, Trials HD is worth its 1,200 Microsoft Points. But why does the road have to be so rocky?
Trials HD contains beautiful effects and a clean interface. A mostly muted color scheme emphasizes the explosions.
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It hosts an incredibly steep learning curve for an Arcade title, but everything reacts exactly like it would in real life. Lots of checkpoints help keep you playing, and you can feel yourself constantly improving.
Sound effects are the game's weakest point. The motor is loud and annoying, the music is just filler, but the entertaining voice work is a redeeming element.
There are over fifty levels with plenty of medals to be earned. The game gets VERY hard in the later stages, which may cause many players to walk away.
Whilst the game has a steep learning curve that may scare some players off, if you can persevere, earning the skills to do well in Trials HD will make you feel like a rock star.