Two and a half years ago, the Trials series invaded consoles with Trials HD and gave its many twenty-something players a chance to relive much of what made Excitebike great, but with far deeper physics-based gameplay and outstanding graphics. Its gameplay had a learning curve to it, but also had a huge spike towards the end that drove people away. Evolution has eased up on the difficulty a bit (like the Wii-only MotoHeroz that is also worth owning), but finds the right balance between challenge and fun. It isn't rage-inducing like THD was, and now makes sure you know what to do and how to do it before testing your skills on a set of tracks with some quick license tests.
Beyond remedying the difficulty issue, the indoor factory-style settings have been greatly mixed up. Outside of the traditional wooden ramps and pipe-filled areas, you've got a ton of outdoor settings to choose from. There's a lot more life to stages now, with explosions going off in the background, or even the foreground changing your environment as you race. These elements make the game more challenging in a way since you truly have to at least have a working knowledge of how to properly move your bike around with just the right amount of pressure to survive amid all the chaos. RedLynx clearly wanted to go for a more cinematic approach to the game. While the explosions may remind players of action films, there are also a lot of stunning images produced in silhouette as well. Initially, seeing your rider against either a moon or bright red sun-lit sky shocks you. Then you work your way through the game and reach the homage to Limbo that both gives you obstacles to traverse like buzzsaws, but also produces incredible black and white silhouettes as well.
Trials vets will feel right at home in the new surroundings once they get back into the groove. It only took me through the trial game to get back into my comfort zone, so after about 15 or so minutes, anyone who played it before should ease back in. The best part is that trial game gives you a license test and a really nice assortment of races to try out - you'll definitely know if the full game is for you after playing it. Odds are, if you ever liked the Excitebike games even a little bit, it is. The gameplay hasn't really been changed around much, but the complete overhaul of the visual design of the game has freshened it up
Online play is included and brings with it supercross races. One of my biggest complaints about THD was that while it felt like a more modern Excitebike, it was missing that feeling of competition against another player. Now, you can compete with as many as three other players at one time on a track. Beyond that, you can also compete with friends offline using their ghost data for a track. Online play is a blast, and mostly lag-free, although texture pop-in is worse online than offline, and screen tearing can become very distracting. However, I'd say it's still worth buying for the online components because of the camaraderie between players. Those moments where everyone struggles to get past one part of a track, then one person gets by and actually offers up some advice are really special and memorable.
Special skill challenges are back, and take things like THD's ride on a giant American Gladiator ball and make them seem tame by comparison. Now, you've got to do things like piloting a UFO onto as many platforms as possible, or fly through the air and flap your 2x4 wings before slamming into the concrete below. Pain is a certainty there - it's your job to delay the inevitable. There's also a tremendous Marble Madness-style stage that will surely humble fans of that type of game because it follows the same intricate physics as the main Trials game. Your giant ball of steel has a real sense of weight to it, and just getting it to slightly move in the direction you want can seem like a Herculean task at times. Then, after seemingly a million failures, you do it and the thrill leads you to just keep playing.
You may play to reach a new distance in that stage, or try to earn a new medal to unlock one more set of levels. The entire experience is a story of “just one more try” turning into hours of playtime. You wonder where the night has gone, see the sun rise up, and figure what the hell, the day's already kind of shot – might as well play some Trials.
The creation tools greatly add to the overall value of Evolution. Using a tool that is so powerful the developers used it to make all of the game's courses, you'll be able to craft complex or simple tracks that can now be uploaded and downloaded by anyone, as opposed to THD's more restrictive process. As the Marble Madness-style level shows (and the ski racing one to a lesser extent), you can do more than just make bike racing stages, and sure enough, even at this early stage, there are foosball and FPS ones up for play. RedLynx really overachieved compared to what one could've expected here. While it may pale in comparison, I do appreciate being able to edit your bike and pretty much every part of his attire as well. There are even little unlockable bonuses for series vets who have their old save files as well. RedLynx sought to create a fan-pleasing experience and succeeded in every major way.
Visually, Trials Evolution looks about as good as THD, but it is hurt by little details that affect things in a major way at times. While the environments look amazing when they're all loaded up, when they aren't, the textures look pretty terrible, and onlne screen-tearing is quite distracting. The screen-filling graphics that sometimes fill the screens with instructions are beneficial, but also block the player's view of the ground and make it hard to properly line your bike up with the track. Despite the issues, I really like the overall look of the game and can't rate them as bad on the whole given the sheer beauty contained with the game. They're rough around the edges to be sure, but beautiful when everything's clicking as it should be. Hopefully a patch can keep things looking consistently good in time.
Much like THD, the music is pure testosterone-fueled rock and rap. The rock is pretty decent stuff - so much so that I'd actually like to have the soundtrack be made available to it because it gets stuck in your head afterwards. The rock/rap tunes included are quite good too - especially the game-opening one that has a really high energy beat to it and namedrops Monday Nitro, which I loved hearing. The default music is great, but it's also fun to fire up “No Brakes” from the Offspring and just go crazy as well.
Trials Evolution is a must-buy for anyone who loved either THD or any motorcycle racer pretty much ever. It's a blast to play, easier to learn now than before, gives you a lot for $15 and is one of the most replayable games on XBLA even with some rough edges. RedLynx could've just phoned it in with a glorified mission pack and it still would be worth buying, but they went far beyond that and really created something special.
This review is based on a digital copy of Trials Evolution for Xbox Live Arcade purchased by the reviewer.