Friday, January 22, 2010

XBLA Review -- Trials HD

This week's review cost me some sanity and nearly a controller, something few games have done. The first one that did this since I was little was Ninja Gaiden on the original XBox roughly six years ago. Playing mostly competitive games, I don't get the opportunity to get frustrated with the game as much as I do with myself or my opponent. However, I've still encountered a few since then. Geometry Wars, Pilotwings, and a small handful of others have taxed my patience. Some of these I come back to and others I leave behind. The difference between the good games that do this and the bad ones is whether or not you think continuing on is worth the risk of chucking a controller and the frustration of retrying something hundreds of times. RedLynx's Trials HD definitely fits the description of a game with that risk and frustraion but, thankfully, rewards and entertains as much as it infuriates.

The premise of the game is simple. You're riding a dirtbike over a series of jumps, gaps, various objects and explosives in an attempt to get to the end of the course. Think Excitebike with no one else on the course and only one lane instead of four. Also like Excitebike, the controls are as simple as they come. There's only lean forward, lean back, gas, and brake. That's where the simplicity ends, however, and where the mind-numbing difficulty begins. The early stages give you a feel for the game while the later stages require an unhealthy mix of precision and retries. The game could be called "Trials and Errors HD" and you'd have a pretty good idea what you're in store for if it were. Luckily there's no loading in retrying (just hit B and you go back to your last checkpoint) so you don't feel too bogged down in hitting that button, literally, a few hundred times on a single course after each crash or explosion.

Speaking of crashes and explosions, they all look amazing in HD on the 360. This game could've looked just like the other games in the series and have the same gameplay and I doubt I'd even say a word about it, but the polish put into how the game looks is impressive. Nothing more than a simple side view is truly needed as the entire game is played on one plane and yet everything is modeled in 3D. Think Street Fighter 4 or the Smash Bros. series. Little touches like your ragdoll driver being thrown off into the distance after explosions or rolling sideways off a ramp give it a touch that makes the game feel whole and complete even next to all the games on the 360 that require a disc. The sound, as a whole, is somewhat forgettable as it consists of the roar of your engine and the occasional explosion, scream of your rider, or sound of your bike hitting something it shouldn't. And though there is music in the background you really don't pay attention to it or sometimes even know it's there.

Replayability, thankfully, is here in abundance as it'll take a while to unlock and beat everything in the game. However, the game is frustrating enough that it takes a dedicated, talented, and masochistic enough gamer to finish everything. Even as I write this I still have one track and one tournament, a specific series of tracks, that I can't finish. It's normally against my rules to review a game without total completion but I'll have to make an exception here. On the other hand I feel slightly justified as the final track is something, as of this review, less than 10% of the people who own this game have done. And I do feel the urge to continue playing it to try not only for that last track but also to improve my times, thanks to the leaderboards on every track, course and minigame. This is the sign that the developers succeeded in what they were trying to do. Even once I finish that, I still have plenty to do with the game as it features a level editor and the ability to share said levels with your online friends. Should the urge come up to make something impossible, I'm sure your friends will love you for it. And even after you get done with all this, there are the 12 goofy minigames to waste time with from a skijump that involves bailing off your bike to the circus style globe of death.

In conclusion, if you have a large well of patience and you wish to test its depths, I can safely say you won't be disappointed with Trials HD, even at its slightly elevated 1200 Point cost. If, however, overly difficult games turn you off I'd recommend looking elsewhere. Or just go back and fire up Excitebike.

Trials HD by RedLynx is available on Microsoft's XBox Live Arcade for 1200 Points. It was played to near completion with the exception of the last tournament and the last Extreme track. Everything was unlocked and tried, screens were cussed at, and I had to walk away from the game a couple times before I broke the TV. Also, it succeeded in keeping me awake until 1:00 without me noticing. Kudos.

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