Everyone looks for replay value in games these days. Gamers want it so they can justify spending money on them. Critics want it so they can give their reviews higher scores. Publishers want it so they have something to brag about on the back of the box and stop you from trading their games in once you’ve completed them. It is in this quest for adding replay value that so many games seem to tack on competitive multiplayer or horde modes. Trials Evolution has replay value too, but it isn’t tacked on, and this replay value doesn’t come from adding extra modes. It stems from the game’s core mechanics. It possesses the rare quality of making you want to play even single-player events again and again.
In most games, you’ll be content to move on once you’ve earned first place or a gold medal, but not in Trials Evolution. Here, even once you’ve achieved the top prize, the very nature of the track design and controls will encourage you to play again so you can shave off a few more seconds; maybe with better weight balancing or better use of speed and momentum. A few adjustments can be telling on your overall times. No matter how well you’ve done on a track, the game has a way of letting you know that you can still do better. But rather than being demoralizing, it does it in a way that makes you want to do better. I think I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so let me track back a little bit.
For those new to the Trials series, it is a unique, genre-defying series that has found its home on the Xbox 360’s Xbox Live Arcade.
I believe I can fly
Remember Excitebike, the NES’ sideways motocross game? Think of Trials as Excitebike, only with punishing physics and infinitely trickier tracks, so much so that it is more of a puzzle platformer than a racing game, even if getting to the finish line as quickly as possible is your end objective. Obstacles on tracks can be anything from ramps and rocks to tractor tires and walls. Obstacles vary in size and angle and your ability to negotiate them will depend on your mastery over your bike. The dirt bikes at your disposal will increase in power as you progress through the game and some of the later bikes are so powerful that if you accelerate too much, they’ll throw you into an uncontrollable wheelie. Besides intricate throttle control, you’ll also have to lean the ride forward or back depending on the obstacle you’re about to face.
All of this might sound complicated and daunting, but that’s what makes Trials Evolution so great – it isn’t. The game’s single player mode eases you in and there’s also a brief tutorial before every new gameplay feature is introduced. But even without it, gameplay feels natural and instinctive. You start off with simple tracks and lower powered bikes, and the difficulty ramps up as you progress. The objectives in most of the early events involve you getting to the finish line in quick time, awarding you one of three medals based on your time. Later on, there are more variations and complications thrown in, such as the inability to lean or deactivating your brakes and having your bike on full throttle throughout the event. Then of course, there are those events that totally ditch the bike-riding aspect of the game. You’ll be flying space ships; getting tossed off a giant ramp with wings strapped to your arms, which you must flap to get as far as you can; swinging and jumping from one trapeze to another. It can get pretty absurd.