[Review] Trials Evolution
It’s time to get your two-dimensional motorcycling on. Again. Trials HD has been one of my favorite XBLA titles since it first came out in 2009. Take Excitebike and Super Meat Boy, throw them into a bowl with copious amounts of butt-rock, stir well, and you’ll end up with Trials soup. Or a cupcake. Maybe a quiche? One of these days I’ll learn to not write reviews while I’m hungry. Anyway, a sequel has hit digital shelves and I’ve played a lot of it. A whole lot. Trials tacos, maybe?
The gameplay on the track in Trials HD was near perfect three years ago and in case you were worried about it: Red Lynx hasn’t messed it up. In fact, they’ve done very little to change it. This isn’t a slight against the developer or the game — they simply didn’t need to. The physics still feel great and though there may not have been any obvious changes to how the game plays, there’s just more to do.
This game is still Trials. You still need to make sure you get your back wheel touching to get over obstacles, watch your torque so that you don’t flip, and watch the handbrake on your front tire. That’s not to say that no changes were made to the basic racing, though. Just that most of them were purely cosmetic. Trials HD confined the rider to warehouse locales that got bland pretty quick. In the follow-up, almost every course takes place outside in surprisingly detailed environments. It widens the game’s color-palette and generally prevents it from getting stale quite so quickly. Most of the levels have different visual filters applied to them, too, which keeps the game from getting boring visually. It’s mostly an aesthetic difference, but I was surprised how much more fun I had jumping over ravines and broken bridges than I did jumping over metal bars laid across a warehouse, even if the jump itself was identical. That visual difference would be a good thing if this was a game to pick up and play for just a few hours, but Evolution is intent on keeping the player riding for a while, which makes the far-from-boring visuals even more important.
Contributing to this is the new and improved track editor. The previous game had a track editor that allowed players to create their own tracks and upload them to the servers, somewhat similar to Little Big Planet. Apparently Red Lynx decided that allowing players to injure themselves on a practically infinite number of tracks wasn’t enough. This time the editor has been expanded, allowing players to create things from top-down 2D shoot-em-ups, Angry Birds clones, working foosball tables, or even first person shooters. The game’s only been out for about a week and people are already showing creativity and genius in some of these levels. Granted, many of the “tracks” listed above were made by Red Lynx themselves, but they do their job well at showing the promise of the editor. Opening up the genres doesn’t mean we haven’t seem some great tracks to ride on, as well. The Portal-themed “Test Subject 001″ track is one of the best user-created levels I’ve seen in anything. Just as important as the editor itself is how easy it is to get to the content. Going to the Track Central section on the main menu opens up a variety of filter options including the basic top downloads and top rated tracks along with Red Lynx staff picks. Good tracks are remarkably easy to find and once you hit download track, you’ll be playing the track in less than a minute. It’s staggering just how quick and painless it is to get new content. As long as the community keeps it up, I can see myself going back to Trials Evolution every week or two if not more just to see what they’ve come up with. I’ve never been able to say that about any game, especially not on the 360 and especially not a download.
Also improved is the leaderboard functionality. This time around, during the single-player portion of the game, white dots with the names of your friends appear on the track with you, easily showing you where your friend was at during their best time. It doesn’t show their checkpoint restarts, instead keeping the white dot about the checkpoint marker until their successful run. This can be quite satisfying when white dots stay stuck at an obstacle while you barrel straight through. If you don’t like the clutter or the distraction, you can turn them off in the options menu. I’ve personally found that it increases the tension in a good way and lets you know what sections your friends are doing better than you. Just like the last game, it shows all of your friends’ times at the end of the run and how many mistakes they made. I’ve played several tracks five to ten more times just to get to the top of the leaderboard and I’ll be glad to do it again once they manage to topple me.
If asynchronicity isn’t your thing, though, Red Lynx has your back this time. The least iterative addition is probably the local and online multiplayer, a first for the series. The online multiplayer works almost exactly like you’d expect. In the first mode, Supercross, the riders are lined up on their own separate two-dimensional planes, Excitebike-style, and race on specially tailored multiplayer courses. The second mode, Trials, has the players race on the courses from the main game against the ghost of another player. The ghost is actually in real-time in this mode, so it isn’t like you’ll be playing with pre-recorded race times like you do in the single-player.
The multiplayer modes as a whole are quite fun, but it’s not without fault. There’s a bit of screen-tearing that happens online and sometimes matchmaking can take surprisingly long. My major problem with the multiplayer is that I personally think it should have taken a few more cues from Trackmania. Not only because you can’t ride on user-created levels online unless you’re playing in a private match with friends (presumably to keep horrible levels out of rotation), but you also only get one shot at a course unless it contains multiple heats. What this means is that one mistake can cost you the whole race. In the short-term it makes every attempt matter, but the most satisfying moments in Trials come from failing an obstacle multiple times and rising, triumphant, from the ashes. Simply put, instead of seeing who crosses the finish line first, it should instead see who gets the best complete run in a set amount of time. It’s also problematic that there’s a large separation between good players and not-so-good players. With the inability to throw in user-generated maps and surprise the players, the ones who have played the most naturally rise to the top. Players who are riding the course for the first time simply have no chance. If they were given a set period of time to make just one good run, they would have some time to learn the track. As it stands, it’s like Charles Darwin himself designed the multiplayer. There’s no room to adapt, either, other than playing the single-player or multiplayer enough until you memorize the tracks. That’s not fun.
Let me do you a favor and tell you not to buy this game for local multiplayer. What’s there is a fun enough distraction, but the balancing is pretty horrible. It also uses the Excitebike-style racing, but the necessity to keep all players at once proves to be its downfall. Instead of doing something clever like zooming the camera out or context-sensitive split-screen like the newest Lego games, Trials Evolution takes the easy way out and simply causes the player who’s lagged behind to get a fault counted against them and start at the next checkpoint once the other players have crossed the checkpoint line. The problem is, it sometimes places the faulted character in a better position than the player who just completed the prior obstacle. Sometimes at the very end of the race! It’s fun to mess around with for a minutes, but if you or your friends are highly-competitive it will become frustrating more than fun very quickly.
It should also be said that fans of the original game’s more elite tracks will fit right at home here. There’s more than enough tracks in the main game to be satisfying for those with less God-like patience, but for skilled players or masochists, the difficulty manages to stay intact. There are plenty of Extreme courses available in the vanilla game, some of which contain obstacles that are downright sadistic. The allure of medals is ever-present, leading to an almost unhealthy amount of false “one more times” as you try again and again to get the gold. It does get frustrating at times, especially in the later tracks where the timing is so specific that you can have no idea why you were successful that time and not the fifty beforehand, but the moment you succeed is so splendidly satisfying that it’s always worth pushing through.
Even the mistakes can be satisfying, sometimes leading to some of the most hilarious displays of ragdoll physics I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’ve probably giggled with glee at more failures than I have at successes. The small moments you spend laughing at the misfortune of your poor, poor rider help to break up the frustration and keep you smiling even when you know in the back of your head you’ve restarted this obstacle twenty times already. It’s kind of a shame that you can’t watch more of these unless you’re going to restart the track completely, because the timer keeps going if you restart at a checkpoint. It’s best to restart as soon as you realize you’re going to crash, so sometimes you can miss out on some truly hilarious moments just for score’s sake, which is too bad.
[+Addictive Gameplay] [+Taking Trials Outdoors] [+In-Depth Editor] [+Create And Play Games Of Other Genres] [+Download New Tracks In Seconds] [+Multiplayer Added] [+Fun Asynchronous Multiplayer] [+Satisfyingly Difficult Gameplay] [Often Hilarious Ragdoll Physics] [*Difficulty May Be Too Intense For Some] [-Screen Tearing In Multiplayer] [-Matchmaking Can Take A While] [-Players Who Invest More Time Have The Advantage Online] [-Local Multiplayer Is Poorly Balanced]
Trials Evolution is a gorgeous game. I’m not going to cut it down by adding “for a downloadable game.” It deserves better than that. The framerate is buttery smooth in the single-player (still very good in the multiplayer) and the different filters that Red Lynx applied to almost all of the levels look great. The only problems I have visually are occasional screen tearing during multiplayer, frequent texture pop-in, and questionable design in the character customization. None of those problems are glaring, though. The texture pop-in is noticeable, but not any worse than many AAA games.
The clothes that are available to buy with money earned in-game range from stupid to horrendously stupid. Some may be turned off by this, but it actually fits with the game’s style. Everything in this game is “extreme,” so if that isn’t your thing then the presentation in this game can come off as less than appealing.
The sound design is kind of a mixed bag. The sounds of the bike and crashes are top-notch, but the same can’t be said about the music. The game is accompanied by blaring butt-rock that I can only imagine most people will find atrocious. I, personally, think that the not-Nickelback-but-kind-of-Nickelback soundtrack fits the game’s style very well. Would I ever listen to it outside of the game? Hell no. That doesn’t mean I’m not singing along every time I play the game, though. Admit it. You know exactly what I’m talking about.
The menus are pretty simple, yet well-designed. They get you where you need to go quickly and I’m always impressed by how quickly I can find a new track and play it. All of the info you would want about a track, both created and in-game, is right where you’d expect it to be. The menus are nothing elegant, but that’s a theme that permeates the entire game.
By themselves the elements would probably seem somewhat lame and disparate. As a whole, they all fit together nicely. It’s not going to please everyone, but if you aren’t against extreme in excess you should enjoy this game’s style.
[+Gorgeous Visuals] [+Character Customization] [+Great Sound Effects] [+Well Designed Menus] [*Style Not For Everyone] [-Bad Butt Rock]
When it comes to value, there is nothing negative I can say about this game. The base game comes with plenty of courses, the downloadable levels provide nearly infinite replay value, and it will take hours and hours to get top marks on all of the main courses. Not to mention how many extra hours you can squeeze out of the game by playing track time tug of war with your friends. Then, if you get tired of riding your motorcycle, you can try out some of the other weird levels in Track Central. If that’s somehow not enough, you can take your skills online. This game has a tremendous amount of content that’s only growing larger. For $15 (1200 Microsoft Points), you can easily get as many hours of enjoyment as you want.
[Plenty Of Tracks In Base Game] [Downloadable User-Generated Levels] [Medals Provide Replay Value] [User-Generated Levels Of Different Genres] [Asynchronous Multiplayer] [Online Multiplayer] [Only $15]
Look. I love this game. I really do. Every time I play it, a big grin spreads wide across my face. Sometimes that grin becomes a grimace at certain obstacles, but once I power through, that grimace turns into an even bigger smile than before. I’ll be playing this game for a while yet and, for a $15 game, that’s unheard of. Trying to beat my friends is every bit as addictive as Need for Speed’s AutoLog or SSX’s RiderNet. I can’t recommend this game highly enough.
[+Addictive Gameplay] [+Taking Trials Outdoors] [+In-Depth Editor] [+Create And Play Games Of Other Genres] [+Download New Tracks In Seconds] [+Multiplayer Added] [+Fun Asynchronous Multiplayer] [+Satisfyingly Difficult Gameplay] [Often Hilarious Ragdoll Physics] [+Gorgeous Visuals] [+Character Customization] [+Great Sound Effects] [+Well Designed Menus] [Plenty Of Tracks In Base Game] [Downloadable User-Generated Levels] [Medals Provide Replay Value] [User-Generated Levels Of Different Genres] [Asynchronous Multiplayer] [Online Multiplayer] [Only $15] [*Difficulty May Be Too Intense For Some] [*Style Not For Everyone] [-Screen Tearing In Multiplayer] [-Matchmaking Can Take A While] [-Players Who Invest More Time Have The Advantage Online] [-Local Multiplayer Is Poorly Balanced] [-Bad Butt Rock]