Imagine my surprise when my wife, who tolerates my vigorous gaming habit mostly because it helps pay the bills, asked if she could have a turn at – of all things – Trials Evolution. A motorcycle racing game.
Actually, calling it a motorcycle racer isn’t entirely accurate. Like its predecessor, Trials HD, it has players driving motorbikes through courses as quickly as possible. But the experience is nothing like, say, a MotoGP game. The Trials games are better described as what Nintendo’s classic Excitebike might have become had it spent the last 25 years wolfing down steroids.
We control bikes that move through realistic-looking three-dimensional worlds, but their movement is restricted to a two-dimensional plane. That means there’s no steering. We simply control throttle and braking and shift our rider’s weight forward and back. It makes for a sublimely accessible and intuitive experience that just about anyone can pick up in a matter of minutes. This is surely one of the reasons the original became one of Xbox Live Arcade's most popular games.
Equally important is Trials’ penchant for over-the-top antics, which tend to have a certain Jackass-ish charm. Finnish developer RedLynx sets the action in locations as diverse as war zones and sewage facilities and puts in our way plenty of imaginative obstacles, such as jumps that resemble roller coaster tracks, seesawing metal beams, and even landmines. Throw in a realistic physics system (or at least realistic in a world in which you can only move left and right) and you get some marvelously satisfying – and painful looking – wipeouts. Even if you happen to survive a race unscathed, you can count on some sort of agreeably juvenile post-finish finale, like a heap of giant logs falling onto your bike, or an explosion that sends your hapless motorcyclist flying almost all the way back to the start line.
But let's get back to my wife. I wasn’t sure what to make of her request to play. I thought perhaps she had grown miffed at me while I wasn’t looking, as wives are apt to do when their husbands’ attention is focused on a television rather than them. It was with a bit of trepidation, then, that I eventually handed her my controller – a brand new golden gamepad with wires painted through its midsection so as to resemble C-3P0. (Yes, it's as awesome as it sounds.) I had an unwelcome vision of it being tossed through the open balcony door beside her.
To my surprise, though, she simply began playing. And with a giddy smile, no less. Turns out she’d been watching for a while, and something about the game’s wild antics appealed to her. She was even moved to giggle after making her motorcyclist perform half a dozen flips upon taking flight off a particularly tall jump and landing on his head in bone-crunching fashion.
I was so proud of her. She wasn't immune to video games after all.
In the end, though, I was the one who played long into the night.
As I worked through Evolution’s various license challenges and career events – few of which last longer than a minute, though the most extreme can take a hundred or more attempts to master – I unlocked additional activities and mini-games. Some are a little goofy – like one in which our bike is replaced with a pair of skiis and we go zooming through a downhill course trying to perform flips (the bike physics don’t translate particularly well to skiing, alas) – while others provide fresh and interesting one-off challenges, like trying to go as far as you can with limited gas, rushing through a course with the throttle stuck on max, or controlling a bike with a rider who refuses to shift his weight. Tournaments – events that tabulate your combined time over several courses – provide a nice distraction, too.
But the sequel’s standout features comes in the form of a track editor and several multiplayer modes.
The editor lets aspiring game designers quickly and easily create wild courses of their own. Even if you don’t want to create your own tracks, you can still benefit from those made and shared by others. I've seen plenty of fun and challenging courses pop up just one day post-release.
RedLynx is encouraging players to experiment and make other kinds of games with the tool kit as well (I saw some examples in the mini-games I unlocked, including a marble-rolling game and a UFO piloting game), but I've yet to encounter any that measure up to the fun of riding a bike.
Online play, meanwhile, allows players to race supercross-style, with racers on multiple lanes (which does an even better job of bringing back old Excitebike memories), as well as single-lane ghost matches. Even those not normally taken with multiplayer may find something to like in these bite-sized events, which spur bursts of laughter and boosts of adrenaline in equal measure.
I’ve had some trouble joining multiplayer matchesover the last couple of days, but that may just be post-launch congestion. Based on some of my leaderboard rankings, it looks like well over 100,000 people downloaded Trials Evolution in just the first day or two, which likely means servers are getting hammered. Such numbers also suggest the game is well on its way toward becoming one of the most popular Xbox Live Arcade titles of the year.
Regardless of whether you choose to become part of its multiplayer or track creator communities, Trials Evolution is still a blast, and well worth $15. The truest indicator of its success, though, is that it lured my wife to play. Any game that can get her to reach for a controller must be doing something right.
Platform: Xbox 360 Live Arcade
Release: April 17, 2012