I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about one of 2012’s most underrated gems. Underrated by whom, you ask? I don’t know, but what I do know is that Trials Evolution is a game which deserves to be praised each and every day until the end of time.
For those not in the know, Trials Evolution is a physics-based puzzle game set on a motocross bike. Using just two buttons and an analog stick, players must carefully navigate their rider to the end of each level, which is easier said than done. As the levels (which are closer to obstacle courses than race tracks) ascend and descend, players have to carefully shift their rider’s weight on the bike. An uphill straightaway requires the rider’s full weight on the front of the bike, for example, while a perfect landing necessitates the back tire landing ever-so-slightly before the rest of the bike. The game is a literal balancing act, and while the concept seems simple enough, the execution will leave you in a controller-throwing rage. The good kind, though.
That’s because every failure is the fault of the player, not the game. Though you may be able to stumble through a course with dozens of mistakes (or “faults,” as the game calls them), the physics of Trials reward the more precise player. The mechanics are a thing of beauty, impressively deep and rewarding. The game never seems cheap, but instead forces players to learn and improve at the game, resulting in one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played. “One more try” turns into hours lost in front of the television, all for that elusive perfect run that may be as short as twenty seconds. But you can do it in nineteen point five seconds, goddammit, and so the cycle starts again.
And unlike its predecessor, which took place solely in a squalid, rundown warehouse (the size of which put the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark to shame) Trials Evolution features a wide variety of track environments, from beautiful outdoor forests to post-apocalyptic cityscapes and everything in between. The variety truly is amazing. Where one level may be a cross-country jaunt through a peaceful countryside, another is a surreal, mind-bending excursion through a constantly shifting world.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Trials Evolution is its track creator, a mode so sophisticated and adaptable it would make Little Big Planet proud. An admittedly niche mode, the track creator allows particularly creative individuals to craft and tweak their own levels. It may seem cliché, but the mode is limited only by the player’s imagination. Some of the developer-created “tracks” include an FPS shooting range, a Frogger clone, and even a Splosion Man inspired minigame. Fully utilizing the track creator requires a familiarity with a dizzying amount of options and a massive investment of time, but the end result is a mode that, if shipped separately, would be more-than-worth the $15 price tag of Trials Evolution.
Not a track creator yourself? Then jump into Track Central, where the world’s top-rated user tracks are freely available for download. So even after you’ve exhausted Trials Evolution’s 60 tracks (which is an achievement in itself), there are literally thousands more just waiting. Even a year after release, tracks are still being uploaded to Track Central with astounding regularity. The active player base is a testament to the game’s longevity and addictive nature.
And as a random aside, Trials Evolution also has the distinction of being the first game in years to make me physically move my hands and body while playing. I suddenly identify with my parents. Not since I was five have I done such a thing, yet I find myself unconsciously straining to make a particularly long jump or to keep my rider balanced. It’s a strange reaction to have, and I attribute it to Trials’ immersion factor, which completely pulls you into the game. When that jump is barely out of reach, you actually feel as if a bit of fidgeting can save you. It never can of course, but a quick press of the B button allows you to instantly reset and try again. And again, and again, and again.
When players boot up Trials Evolution, they’re greeted with a rap/rock intro song performed by Brandon Dicamillo of Jackass fame. The song has been criticized to hell and back since the game’s release, but I found it to be tongue-in-cheek, self-aware song that set the tone for the rest of the game: a Jackass-esque carnival of pain, absurdity, and fun. Yet the trailer-park, hillbilly atmosphere of the game belies a complex and refined experience. It may be hard to believe, but like an old motocross bike, there’s sophistication buried beneath Trial Evolution’s rusty, redneck exterior. Sophistication and fun like you wouldn’t believe