Trials HD is rightly considered an XBLA classic. Its mix of physics-enabled motocross platforming and second-shaving, leaderboard-climbing gameplay creating an addictive, if sometimes frustrating, experience.
Trials Evolution, its inevitable sequel, ups the ante in almost every conceivable way: the explosions are more ridiculous, the tracks more fiendish, the veneer of slack-jawed extreme sports jargon more hilarious. But above all that, it opens itself up, adding hectic multiplayer and a kinder difficulty curve, customisable riders and bikes, and a spectacular, two-tiered track editor that means anyone can throw together their dream raceway.
The early stages walk you through the mechanics of the game with an airy confidence. You’ll learn to manipulate your bike and its rider as acceleration, braking, ducking and weaving in your saddle to shift your centre of gravity are all highlighted. It’s a remarkably simple system and one that, for all of its revving engines and outrageous leaps, owes more to the platform genre than racing.
Freed from the confines of the slightly drab warehouses of its predecessor, the Evolution takes place in a variety of gloriously weird settings, from ghost inhabited moorland, to crumbling mesas and collapsing towns that defy logic and gravity.
There are even outrageous nods in the direction of some other XBLA titles (most notably a beautiful Limbo-inspired stage), all handled with a keen eye for detail and a knowing wink from a development team at the top of their powers. But the thing here is that all of that is mere window-dressing; the tracks so wonderfully designed that they would work perfectly well as monochrome, wireframe rides through abstract shapes.
Everything is poised and balanced, every leap and plummet orchestrated and timed to test your reactions to the nearest pixel. The more challenging stages are minefields of almost impossible combinations, requiring the deftest of touches to navigate, but a flawless run is rewarded with a glow of satisfaction few other games can match.
Multiplayer lets you take on friends and strangers in a variety of different race types. You unlock more as you level-up, and can play the tracks you’ve built in the track editor too. The editor itself is a brilliant tool, offering a simple version for those who just want to bash something together, and a more advanced option for wannabe designers to take their time over. User created content is going to be key, and the simplicity with which you can build a workable level is likely to lead to some wonderful creations.
Trials Evolution is a breathtaking achievement. From such a simple premise, it weaves a web of intricately designed levels, some of which will have you tearing your hair out, others which will make you howl with laughter.
It builds on the legacy of its predecessor but without being afraid to branch out and try its own ideas, and rounds off its already impressive package with a track editor that ensures there’ll be new content to be enjoyed for the foreseeable future. This is XBLA gaming at its finest, and a game which deserves to be played by as many people as possible.