Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Trials HD

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Developer: RedLynx

Publisher: Microsoft

Release Date: Aug. 12, 2009

System: Xbox 360

ESRB Rating: T

Official Web site

0:00 After hearing this one frequently described as the second coming of the NES favorite ExciteBike, I figured $15 wasn't too much to ask.

0:01 "Monday Monday Monday. It's Monday Night Show Tiiiime," says an announcer over the introductory logos. Drum-heavy generic rock over a simple, dirty title screen.

0:02 Controls look simple enough ... gas and break on the shoulder triggers, lean forward and back with the analog stick. Let's go!

0:03 Difficulty choices are Beginner, Easy, Medium, Hard and Extreme. I start with Beginner, even though I assume it will be totally simple and boring. I start the tutorial in the only available bike, a tiny Turtle 80cc. Looks way too small for my large, muscular rider.

0:04 I hold down RT to go full-throttle right out of the gate. There are some small ramps, but it's a relatively flat course. I show off on the last straightaway with some wheelies. After the finish line, my rider crashes into some plywood and big rubber tires. Ouch. Already I'm not a fan of the diagonal camera view, which makes depth perception a bit of a problem.

Trials HD

0:05 The next track is full of distracting explosions to the side of my biker's path. I'm doing fine, until I lean too far forward during a jump and end up riding nearly vertically on my front wheel after the landing. I fall over into the world's gentlest crash. It's almost slow-motion.

0:07 After a few more retries, I'm realizing that I can't just jam the analog stick to either side when leaning. It requires a light touch to keep my rider centered and upright over the bike. Thing is like a ragdoll ... slightest tap in the wrong direction and he goes flying. Big pole at the end keeps stymieing me.

0:09 God, the slightest imbalance on the bike seems almost impossible to recover from. The slightest tap in the wrong direction sends me tumbling, as does catching the slightest edge of a wall or pipe. It's like I need a preternatural ability to keep everything perfectly centered, even as I go up and down some steep inclines. And this is the first level. Good god!

0:10 I really focus this time, trying small tilts of the bike before they become large, unrecoverable tilts. I slow down a bit to hit a ramp perfectly, then slow more to fly under an overhanging pipe near the finish that's been giving me trouble. I didn't need to pay this close attention in ExciteBike, that's for sure. Anyway, I've got my first Gold medal, but I'm just under 120,000th on the worldwide leaderboards.

0:12 It only takes a trio of tries to get through the next level. I'm still mastering how to control my center of gravity a bit, but it's getting a bit more intuitive. This time my time is 184,000th overall, though.

0:14 "The Breakdown" is filled, appropriately enough, with fragile wooden boards that break apart as I ride over them. A nice visual effect, but doesn't seem to affect the gameplay much. I jump through a ring of fire and make it to the finish line on the first try. I've unlocked Easy mode and the "Reptile 125cc" bike. I think I'll stick to Beginner for now, thanks.

0:16 Now this is more like it. Not only is the Reptile bigger, but it has a much better "responsiveness" rating, making it much easier for me to align the bike with the constant bumps in this next course. I'm getting some big air on a few of the jumps ... sometimes bigger than I want, since I end up going upward more than forward. This time, I'm 112,000th overall and, more importantly, second among people on my friends list. Think I'm getting a feel for this.

0:18 Another one-try gold on the "Basic Bumps" course. I'm enjoying the subtle animation on my rider as he jerks back before going off a ramp. I'm also learning to love the camera angle, which shows what's coming up in front of me pretty effectively. The level graphics themselves are nice, but a bit to detailed and flashy.

0:19 Turns out the Friends Leaderboard was only showing my nearby friends. I actually was ninth among my friends in that last race. D'oh.

0:20 My first silver medal comes on "Groundhog," a course with a nasty dip under a low-hanging plank. My guy practically got decapitated the first time through. As I watch the replay, it seems like I slowed down way too much in that section.

0:24 Every retry seems worse than the last ... half the time I go too fast and bash my head into the overhand. The other half I slow down too much and go off-balance before I even get there. I think I know what I'm supposed to do, but I just can't make my thumbs pull it off, it seems. One more try for that gold, then I'll move on...

Trials HD

0:30 OK, that one more try quickly became 25 more tries. Seems the key was planning ahead, leaning the bike slightly before hitting the incline. I did get the gold medal eventually, though, and the 86,000th best time in the world. WOO! TOP 100,000! If this was the last "Beginner" course, I shudder to think what "Extreme" is going to be like.

0:32 The Easy level has another Tutorial. This one teaches me to lean forward on steep inclines. Good advice ... keeps me relatively grounded as I climb upward! It seems counterintuitive to me, but I can't argue with success.

0:34 I just finished a course and a ceiling fell on me and exploded. That is all.

0:36 Oh man ... after five tries or so, I just barely finished the second Easy level, rolling the last 30 feet or so on my front wheel only. I'm getting pretty good at managing the little bumps that made up this course ... it's the steep inclines and jumps that still give me trouble.

0:41 Another level finished. I want to lean back and go for big air on the jumps, but that usually just makes me fall over. I can't think of any other motorbike game I've played with this much focus on your angle on the ground. Most of them focus on leans only in midair. It's a learning process, but one I'm enjoying.

0:42 OK, let's try some of these "Skill Games" I've been unlocking. First up ... "Inside the ball." I'm riding inside one of those American Gladiators Atlasphere balls, moving it forward by driving towards the front. On my first try I go full-throttle and fall over almost immediately. Still enough for a bronze medal.

0:46 On subsequent attempts, I focus less on speed and power and more on gently rocking the ball forward. This works until I hit a large incline followed by a chasm, where I totally lose control and fall over every time. I can't figure out how to stay up, and I'm getting tired of trying, so let's move on.

0:49 My first "ski jump" attempt goes a paltry six meters or so. Then I realize I can bail out explosively with a tap of the Y button. This sends me flying 59.14 meters on my first attempt. I stretch that to 74.74 meters somehow after a few more tries, but I can't quite figure out how to control my guy after he's been exploded. If there's some trick to it, it's a mystery to me.

Trials HD

0:54 "Ring of fire" is a bit out of the ordinary. After the first ramp, a rocket kicks in, turning my bike into an ersatz jet. As I fly through fiery rings, the rocket gets extra fuel, launching me toward the next ring. I lean forward and back to aim through the undulating path of rings, but the inertia of the rockets makes this a struggle. I'm stuck getting through 11 or 12 rings every time ... I can't seem to get past this large, ring-free gap without running out of fuel. Eventually I figure out to aim a bit higher and make it to a silver medal. That's enough for now, thanks.

0:55 "Hauler" has me hauling bombs in a hitched wagon. If I slow down suddenly they jerk forward and explode violently. After about five attempts, where I explode at the same steep ramp each time, I decide to move on.

0:56 The "Staircase" game has me hurling myself off my bike in an attempt to break bones as I fall down stairs filled with barrels and panes of glass. I'll stick with PAIN, thanks.

1:01 "In Flames," appropriately enough, has my bike in flames, kind of like that Southern California video. I have to keep going fast or I'll explode. This is more my speed, so to speak. There are two tricky sections, one involving a steep ramp with a lip I keep catching, and another involving a pyramid of barrels that throws me off. Once I pass those I run into a platform full of exploding barrels, which send me flying to my doom.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.


Why? The concept is simple, but requires a good amount of skill to master. This is the kind of game I can easily find myself playing obsessively for weeks.

This column is based on a downloadable copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.

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