Accelerate. Lean. Up, over the jump. Land square. Steep ramp. Whoa, whoa. Tip back. No, forward! Wait. Ah, you just landed on your face. Press B. Repeat. Welcome to Trials HD, a game of sublime pleasure and perverse pain, of giddy heights and painful, crashing lows. Trials had its humble beginnings as a Flash game and has been known to PC gamers for quite a while. Trials HD is the chance for console gamers to catch up. So what have they been missing out on, exactly?
Trials HD is very simple. You are a man on a motorbike. You must make it from one end of a course to the other, left to right. The course itself is 2D, the graphics in 3D. You have to beat the course as quickly as possible, while keeping crashes to a minimum. It has the feeling of a platformer moreso than a racer, kind of LittleBigPlanet meets Stuntman. You primarily use the two triggers and the left analogue stick. The left trigger is your break, the right trigger acceleration. You can lean forward or back using the left analogue stick. To restart a segment, you press B. Remember that, because you'll be pressing it a whole lot.
The game is laid out in a series of brief stages, each under one of the game's five difficulties, ranging from the pleasantly easy to the rage-inducing impossible. Passing a stage will win you a bronze medal, but you'll need to get a lot faster and eliminate your mistakes if you want silver or gold. Your worst enemy in this game is gravity. It is a treacherous beast, conspiring to destroy you at every turn. Often it succeeds. Getting good at the game is really about getting to know the physics engine and interpreting the right thing to do at the right time, finding the right balance of acceleration, lean and timing. You can combine these three elements to access other nuances of control. Leaning back and then quickly forward will give you some extra distance coming off a jump. It's this physics-based logic which drives the game and the player's approach.
Trials HD is a lot of fun. Building momentum, launching off a ramp and spinning through the air, performing delicate adjustments to your landing and shooting off to the next ramp is the essence of the enjoyment the game provides. It's the sort of game that will make you go 'Wheeeee!' within the first minute of playing, and for every other minute you play from then on. The satisfaction and enjoyment is immediate, a rare achievement for a videogame. Especially delightful are the crashes, the ragdoll physics ensuring your failures are just as entertaining, sometimes even more so, than your successes. Watching your hapless driver smash into walls, catch the floor with his face and get blown up by explosive barrels are just a few of the simple pleasures Trials HD has to offer.
One of the strengths of Trials HD is how addictive it is, and that addiction is fuelled by a completely instantaneous reset system. There's no long-winded process of hitting pause and restart if you mess up, or any kind of delay at all. At any time you can hit either B to be instantly restored to the previous checkpoint, or the back button to restart the entire stage. Trials HD is very much a 'one more go' sort of game, and by making it so incredibly easy and instant to have that extra go, you almost always will. Beware, however, the stages on the 'extreme' difficulty setting. Keep an eye on the reset counter in the top left corner. When it's getting to around 200, it's probably time to give up on that nealy vertical ramp. In making a game difficult, developers need to consider whether they will motivate players to persevere to get better, or drive them to giving up. On the extreme stages in Trials HD, which require large amounts of practice, skill and luck to pass, the average gamer is likely to give up.
Beyond the stages, Trials HD has a few other tricks up its sleeve. There is a robust track creator that offers you the tools to create your own courses of dizzying ramps laden with explosive barrels. There are also sixteen mini-games to unlock, ranging from the just okay to the hugely entertaining. One finds you inside a large steel ball which rolls along a course, your job being to remain on the bike for as long as possible. Another sees you bailing from your bike in an attempt to launch yourself as far as possible. A hugely entertaining variant of this sees you throwing yourself down a large series of steps covered in dangerous objects. Your aim isn't distance, but rather to break as many bones as possible. You can also carry out some minor customisation of appearance, mostly in the realm of changing colours around. Another notable feature is that records held by people on your Friends List will constantly show up in-game for you to attempt to beat them, which is a smart and unobtrusive way of fostering a competitive element outside of direct multiplayer.
Visually Trials HD is quite decent, with some impressive lighting on certain stages. The music is fairly horrible but you can always override it with your own. It would have been great though to have some better sound effects. If you've just slammed into a wall at high speed, you should be able to hear something reminiscent of that instead of the generic, limp thud you've already heard a million times. Another wasted opportunity is the redundant replay feature, which won't even allow you to slow the it down.
These are minor irritations however. When it comes down to it, it's hard to imagine anybody not enjoying this game. It taps into the childish glee that exists in all of us, combining the perverse satisfaction of watching people land on their heads with the pure joy of launching off a ramp at high speed.