Are you afraid of the retry button? Did Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved give you nightmares about bright, polygonal shapes dancing mockingly to an electronic beat? Did you lose your job, your family, and your life to the milliseconds of Mirror’s Edge’s time trials? If any of this applies, heed my warning: do not play Trials HD. Its proficiency at unleashing that addictive, one-more-go attitude will absolutely destroy you.
Like me, you won’t realize it at first. Trials HD outwardly appears to be a harmless 2D biking game. The goal is simple: get from left to right ASAP. The controls are simple; use the analog stick to tilt your rider back and forward to deal with the track’s changing gradients, accelerating and braking as needed. Even the graphics are simple (though impressive for an Arcade game). It’s worth noting that there’s a healthy dose of testosterone in its presentation in the form of warehouse backgrounds, scaffolding, and explosive obstacles.
But there’s the kicker – the obstacles. From the beginner levels to the devilishly difficult final levels, Trials HD throws tricky jumps, slopes, and unstable platforms for the player to negotiate. It was around the medium difficulty that I realized Trials HD isn’t a time trial game, but an intricate physics platformer. Obstacles are puzzles to be solved, at least on the first playthrough. One medium difficulty level reminded me of a Wallace and Gromit contraption, full of levers, seesaws, and springs, the sort of machinery an evil genius produces.
That feeling pervades the rest of Trials HD. The final levels contain seemingly impossible jumps and ridiculously steep climbs that would normally frustrate to the point of controller death. Trials HD tries to nullify that rage through a checkpoint system. In the latter levels, each of the many thorny negotiations is preceded and followed by a checkpoint. If your rider crashes, falls off, or explodes (it happens) in a failed attempt, all you have to do is press one face button to return instantly to the previous checkpoint. A simple feature, but it makes the final few levels feel achievable.
After several hours, I felt confident enough with the Medium difficulty tracks that I returned to them to better my time. Now things became dangerous. Not only does Trials HD employ friends and global leaderboards, but it keeps you informed in-game of your progress in relation to your best time (and more significantly your friends’) through a meter at the top of the screen. This, tied in with short length of the levels and the one-button-press restartability, enforces that one-more-go mentality that made Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 such a destructive part of many people’s lives. While Trials HD doesn’t promote competitiveness so wonderfully like Retro Evolved 2 did via its leaderboard-based menus upon start-up, the tallying of scores and times into overall friends and global leaderboards is the cherry on top that will make Trials HD a tough game to put down.
Trials HD could use more visual creativity beyond steel and explosions, something that’s only displayed in a few of the more abstract levels, and the game’s track editor could be more user-friendly, but I can’t complain. Most games of this sort wouldn’t even have a track editor, and I haven’t even mentioned the array of unusual special games including one where you launch the rider off his bike in an attempt to break as many of his bones as possible with mind-blowing physics. I can only hope that I’ll remember where the off button is eventually.