Having played a myriad of similar physics-based puzzlers, ranging from Space Bikers to a Thrillville: Off the Rails minigame, I didn’t immediately take notice when Trails HD was announced for the Xbox Live Arcade. However, when word spread that the title would include a course editor, anticipation grew. Could this be the spiritual successor to Exitebike, a game that augmented its brilliant motocross-inspired gameplay with a potent construction tool?
Although Trials HD’s focus in on environmental navigation rather than pure racing, in many ways the two titles are shockingly similar. Both simplify racing by confining it to a 2D plane, where the focus is keeping your bike’s wheel parallel to the track. After Trials HD’s initial load, the titles near-absence of load times, make the game feel like a classic cartridge-based affair. Unlike the twenty-four year old NES game, Trials HD players must also control the balance of the vehicle’s rider, leaning front and back for stability. This small nuance, coupled with a robust physics system, gives the title a unexpected amount of depth.
The game presents five main difficulty levels, extending from Beginner to the maddeningly difficult, Extreme. Each rank presents ten stages, commencing with a tutorial, with the remainder ramping up the challenge suitably. Once players enter the third stratum, the game moves from a relaxed affair, to an arduous test of precision and patience. One stage required players to cautiously balance on a rolling plank, moving frantically a rollercoaster-like track. Later, that same stage defied players to navigate between two huge steel spheres separated by a pit of fire. While each challenge has multiple checkpoints, a reliance on the devices typically bars the player from achieving a gold, or silver medal.
Fortunately, a press of the back button instantly sends the player back to the start of the stage, giving the often neglected key an unrivaled workout. From this rapid attempt-fail-restart loop, Trails HD slowly get its claws around you, and before long, the player has a restarted the stage a hundred times. Using a limited asset set, the designers gave each stage a distinctive feel, incorporating a number of puzzles skillfully in each zone.
Trials HD’s level editor skillfully has two complexity settings allowing novices and veterans to construct a playable contest in minutes. The feature’s one drawback is that levels can only be shared directly with people on your Live lists. The title inexplicably limits sharing stages with ‘friend of friends’, eliminating the possibility of incredibly imaginative levels being circulated virally.
Despite the game’s obsessions with explosions, chain-reactions, and sweeping courses, the title’s framerate maintains an unwaveringly sixty frame per second output. The game’s visual palette is wonderfully moody, with plenty of shadows and grime, with just enough illumination from lamps, detonations, and the player’s headlight to keep things from being prohibitively dark. Trials HD’s camera typically does a proficient job at keeping both the protagonist and the ground in view at all times.
Trials HD is the quintessential European gaming experience, offering players a fastidiously programmed diversion that holds a remarkable amount of depth, and nearly insurmountable challenge. Once the game’s fifty levels and mini-games have exhausted their novelty, the course editor ensures interest for a supplementary duration, easily warranting the games fifteen dollar price. While controller-throwing types might lack the patience for some of the game’s grueling difficulty, as others encouraged to play Trial HD’s demo. Just make sure you have enough Microsoft points banked for when the obsession hits; for many, a short Trial just won’t be enough.