Gamers of a certain age might remember a slightly rubbish BBC2 TV series called Kick Start. It featured a variety of obstacle-strewn challenges which riders had to negotiate on highly specialised trials motorbikes. The junior version of the programme was particularly funny because there was something quite satisfying about seeing posh kids falling on their bonces off high slippery logs.
I digress. Kick Start was the inspiration for two superb little games back in the 8-Bit era, written by Shaun Southern, and featuring the bum-wigglingly catchy tune that was the programme’s theme.
That tune is pretty much the only thing missing from Trials HD, a new Xbox Live Arcade release that forms part of Microsoft’s “Summer of Arcade”.
Though the game’s not new (it first appeared on PCs quite some time ago and also spawned a superb sequel), this is the first time we’ve seen it on consoles and rather than just doing a straight port of the game, Red Lynx have taken all of the successful elements, improved them a thousand fold, and delivered one of the best looking 360 games – and certainly a lead contender for Game of the Year.
Trials HD is a relatively simple idea. Go from left to right on your highly tuned trials bike, negotiating obstacles, ramps and dangerous hazards. The controls are purposely kept simple but don’t be fooled, they’re actually quite subtle. Right trigger is your throttle, left trigger is your brake, and the left analogue stick on the 360 controller changes your rider’s stance and position, allowing you to shift your weight around the bike for balance.
Mastering these controls is the key to success – and the game starts out by giving you a brief tutorial on how to tackle the first easiest set of levels. In race mode, there are several levels of expertise to master, and the speed that you traverse a level (and the number of times you fall off) are key to winning the top honours and a bronze, silver or gold medal.
Winning gold in race mode will unlock more challenges, other difficulty levels and various bike upgrades so you can end up with an absolute beast of a 600cc trials bike if you’re particularly good at the game.
Going at each level hell for leather will only reap limited rewards, and when you start playing this highly addictive game you’ll soon be thankful that the Xbox 360 trigger controls are analogue, and quite good at transposing subtle movements from your fingertips to your onscreen presence. On some levels you will need to time your rider’s movements perfectly in order to “bunnyhop” your bike over nasty edges and drops. At other times you’ll need to go full pelt down a ramp in order to get up enough speed to perform a spectacular jump. Level design is absolutely superb, and Red Lynx have shown just what’s possible with the game’s mix of objects…and here’s the best bit, if you think you can do better you can have a go with the game’s built-in level editor and prove it.
Building a better mousetrap
The editor is a work of art. It’s so easy to use and in simple mode, you can place any of the in-game objects in 3D space and manipulate them in any 3D plane in order to build the most fiendishly complex levels imaginable. A handy “level object complexity” meter will keep an eye on how much you can cram into a level but as you’ll see in race mode, some quite spectacular stuff can be made. Red Lynx have stressed that anything you see in the game can be built in the editor and you’ll believe them once you start to use it.
It’s just a shame that the Trackmania boys never got their game onto consoles because if it ended up anything like this, it’d be superb.
Trials HD user-created levels can then be uploaded and shared with other players, or you can download their efforts and try to beat their best times. This level of community-based interaction adds another brilliant angle to a game that’s already got plenty going for it.
And we’re still not done yet!
Trials HD also features championships (a collection of tracks from race mode to net you even more rewards and unlockables) and challenges, which are fiendishly designed minigames to test your mettle. Challenge Mode scores are compared against players on your friends list, in fact the whole game does a very nice job of reminding you just how hopeless you are at games compared to your friends – because in Race Mode you’re shown a constant reminder of your position / speed in comparison to other players on your friends list who’ve mastered a level, and in Challenge Mode you’re shown markers and scores that show how successful your friends have been at getting top honours. Again, this meshing together of the Live Community puts other bigger and better funded games to shame and shows that Red Lynx have seriously though about how to make the game appeal to the players they’re aiming it at.
For 1200 points you might think Trials HD is a little on the pricey side, but believe me it’s worth every penny and I had no qualms about paying my own money for this as soon as it appeared on the Xbox Live Marketplace. It’s got plenty of depth and challenge, and the difficulty curve is nicely paced. Along with the level editor, it’s a game that ensures you’ll be playing into the wee small hours and probably dreaming about it when you do finally collapse exhausted into your bed at night. Simply put, Trials HD is one of the best Xbox Live Arcade titles ever, and a seriously nice showcase for the machine too.