Friday, November 12, 2010

Trials HD

7.0 - [Great]

Gameplay: 7
Visuals: 8
Music: 5
Sound: 6
Value: 8

Good Points:

Radical, speedy tricks are a blast - Excellent visuals - Topping friends' and your own top scores keeps you playing - Comprehensive level creator - Extremely challenging

Not So Good Points:

A lack of friends means a lack of replay - Sharing custom tracks is only possible with said friends - Challenging to the point of wild frustration

Trials HD is sort of like a giant, elaborate, violent version of Excitebike. Just like the classic NES title, the player is given a motorbike and a bunch of courses on 2D planes with ramps and jumps. Controls are simple, mostly centering around tilting left and right to land tricky stunts without bailing out. This game, however, is insane. With increasingly difficult stages filled with deadly traps and delicate contraptions, it's no wonder how Trials HD earned its name. Simply staying on two wheels is enough to pose a decent challenge, but with entertainingly painful crashes, race times and leaderboards to top, creative mini-games, and a well-crafted stage creator, Trials HD offers much more than first meets the eye. But seriously, I'm not kidding: it's super, super hard.

Sure, things start out easy enough. A few little bumps and inclines might cause a newcomer to lose his balance, but it's mostly smooth sailing. There's a good sense of speed to the game, and landing a high-flying trick after a back-flip or two is supremely satisfying. Even when gravity does prevail, watching the helpless biker spring out of his seat, nail his head on a metal wall, bounce awkwardly off a wooden plank, and tumble into a pit of fire like a sack of potatoes is even more satisfying. These demonstration of unfortunate landings could barely be called failures, for they always play out differently and rarely disappoint. All the same, the game rewards you with bronze, silver, and gold medals for a good performance, recording your best time and letting you know what must be done to earn the next medal on the list. Seeing your friends' scores is an incentive just as tempting, and shaving off seconds to set the new record becomes the primary goal once the prizes have all been collected. This game of perfecting routines and zooming along momentum-heavy tracks gradually forces you to slow down and learn the all-important physics of the vehicles, and through the level sets of Beginner and Easy, this isn't much of a problem. Medium begins to pose more straining dilemma as it throws platforms and beams that take skills and precision to overcome. It soon becomes apparent that holding down the acceleration trigger and hoping for the best just won't cut it, but handful of attempts will usually yield victory, even if the liberal amount of checkpoints must be used a considerable number of times. And then... there's Hard.

Watch your head, there.

At this point the easy going days of Beginner have been long forgotten, replaced with devious stages that include horribly rocky terrain, unwieldy spheres that must be balanced upon, and even light puzzle solving. It's a good thing that checkpoints offer a quick, easy way of restarting after an accident. Pressing the back button will restart the entire course and tapping B will send you back to the most recent checkpoint (although the clock will keep ticking for the latter), both of which help immensely. Expect to do this many, many times as you fall down chasms, struggle up hills of junk, and generally wipe out a lot. The game very much becomes an uphill climb as the difficulty continues to rise, finally peaking with five Extreme levels that take the utmost concentration, skill, and mastery of all game mechanics to defeat. Nearly vertical walls and huge blocks that were clearly designed for anything but motorcycles taunt the poor biker as he flings himself time and time again against the immovable obstacles. The game kindly racks up the number of restarts on a given level; I believe my highest was somewhere around one-hundred-thirty. Trying to merely finish the levels becomes a maddening exercise in frustration and not everyone will appreciate such a daunting challenge. Nevertheless, Trials HD offers plenty to do whether one successfully masters all the difficulty levels or not.

There are a bunch of short challenges with goals such as flying through flaming hoops with a rocket-powered bike, staying upright inside a moving ball, and (my personal favorite) launching the rider off a cliff in order to break as many of his bones as possible. Like most the game, the fun in these sub-missions comes from trying to outdo friends and earn shiny medals, and the challenges are surprisingly diverse and enjoyable. There are also tournaments that string stages together for an ultimate high score contribute something else to do, basic as they are. But of much greater substance is the level creator, which comes in two flavors: simple and advanced. Hopping into the simple mode offers an uncomplicated experience of placing ramps and platforms all over the place, allowing someone with a casual interest in making his own track to throw something cool together. The advanced mode is far more... well... advanced, as it were. Imagine that. Triggers, extra modes, scenery, special effects, and a ton of other stuff can be tweaked and tampered with to create a complicated masterpiece. If the proper time was put into the level creator, some really rad things could come out of it; whether or not players have the patience to do so is up to them. The whole option is a solid, value-boosting addition, but sadly misses the boat on its true potential. For whatever reason, there's no way to let the world try out your creations since the game only allows you to share levels with friends. It's better than nothing, but unless you have a large team of talented pals who love Trials HD, you won't be downloading any tracks for yourself.

Yup. You have to climb that. On a small vehicle with two wheels. Without falling over. And that's one of the easy parts.

Regardless of your chosen activity, Trials HD is an excellent-looking game. Usually taking place inside a giant warehouse of some kind, it sports an industrial style with plenty of metal barrels, blazing fires, and wooden planks. The lighting is especially impressive, taking the visual spotlight when the motorbike's headlights illuminate dark passages and bounce around with the out-of-control vehicle. Even in the face of high speeds and large-scale explosions the frame-rate remains smooth, and the ragdoll effect that usually follows such explosions is amusingly limp. The random splashes of blood look jarring and unnatural, often occurring in situations that couldn't possibly contain bloodletting, but such a minor detail hardly impacts the overall presentation. The music won't blow you away with its repetitive guitar riffs and heavy-handed rock sound, but it fits the mood well enough. The yells, screams, and whimpers that the biker utters during an especially wild stunt or cringe-worthy landing are both annoying and comical at the same time, but the game is otherwise devoid of any voice acting or narrative.

It's an unforgiving package without a doubt. Mastering the later stages or advanced level creator isn't easy, and it doesn't help that the inherent frustrations of controller-tossing difficulty and the inability to share and receive levels with the general population puts a few bumps in the road of victory. But the core gameplay is dependable and fun, making it worthwhile regardless of these hurdles. When it comes down to it, your fortitude will determine your enjoyment with Trials HD, as playing the easy courses and laughing uproariously at your unlucky rider will only last so long. If you don't have any friends who own the game and you're not the type to invest lots of practice in order to triumph over mountains of flaming tires, you might want to think twice about purchasing this rigorous downloadable title. If you still aren't deterred, then by all means, buckle up, brace yourself, and submit yourself to the raucously entertaining torment of Trials HD.

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