Crack! Snap! Slapstick death! Occasionally when playing Trials Evolution you will think: just how is this fun?
The simple pitch is the same as it's always been, so you're still catapulting a bouncy motorbike around increasingly complex courses, often while developing a nervous tic and cussing like you're going for gold at the swear Olympics, and feeling your soul wrench whenever your hapless rider cracks his face into another jutting industrial girder. This happens all the time. Even when things are going well your left thumb will often nervously wobble itself over to the pause button, as you find your grasp on sanity loosening as you loop around and around in a oddly therapeutic cycle of failures and restarts.
Compared to 2009 darling Trials HD, though, the difference with Finnish developer RedLynx's latest effort is that it does a lot more to reassure you that these death-defying leaps, twitchy hops and near-vertical climbs are a perfectible art form as opposed to simple luck or the reward for dogged perseverance. How is it fun? Because the success tastes so sweet.
Practice is the key, however, and it really does make perfect. Yet Trials Evolution fancies itself as a better tutor than its predecessor, and mixes its newfound aesthetic variety, with you now in wide-open spaces as opposed to cooped up in a dingy warehouse, with a series of tutorials, intermittent licence challenges and a gentle learning curve. There's also enough detail in its crazy, ornate levels - composed of a whole range of colours and environments - to calm you down when you're stuck on trickier moments. The handling of the bikes is the same, but the game is a lot better at showing you how it all works.
There's a rather splendid knockabout sense of up-and-down to playing the game, where you'll put in an unsuspectingly amazing effort on your first go only to spend another hour continually messing up the first jump. Sometimes you'll win, but more often than not you'll lose: playing Trials is like being hit with alternating waves of frustration and elation, and it's sometimes a little bit too easy to forget the former once you've had a taste of the latter.
What that means is that, basically, Trials is still a really difficult game, and that's not helped from time to time by a rotating camera and twisting courses that can be hard to follow. While the earlier courses might seem inviting, and you can blast through them by just holding down on the accelerator while you're learning the basics, they're all riddled with thorny inclines and delicately placed ramps that will prove a challenge for anyone looking to perfect their timings.
Trials is a game inspired by kingly coin-op machines, and therefore high scores are its crown. Each track initially serves up bronze, silver and gold medals based on your speed and grace - you'll rarely see gold if you're slow, but you also need to make sure you don't fall off the bike - alongside 1, 2 or 3 points respectively. More points allow you to access more (increasingly challenging) content, culminating in the final Trials Trophy and then the chance to grab platinum trophies in all prior events.
There's an extraordinarily generous amount of stages on offer here, and as you progress further into the game conquering each one feels like a huge accomplishment. Success here needs to be fought for, as you struggle a compromise between poise, grip and the ticking clock's beating reminder that you need to be going much, much faster.
This is also a much better game when enjoyed with others, and the real thrill of your single-player achievements is in seeing where you land on the track-specific leaderboards compared to your friends. The stronger the competitive streak the sweeter the victory, and the game furthers its teeth-grinding agenda by now displaying on-screen dots to showcase your nearest and dearest rivals while you suffer on another bloody ramp. As before, you can also load up any replay - both from friends and strangers - and study how they accomplished those tricky moments.
RedLynx has also added a four-player multiplayer mode, pitting you against the course while the rest of your gang does the same in adjacent lanes. This mixes up the formula by removing the safety net of the instant restart button, making your mistakes even costlier. It's also all too easy to get distracted by watching what the guy next to you is doing, and while the single-player modes are still the game at its best the multiplayer works as something immediate to wheel out when you've got mates over.
A versatile, fully-fledged track editor rounds out the package, and it's so comprehensive that I find it particularly difficult to understand. RedLynx isn't watering it down for idiots like me, mind, and these are the same tools used to produce the generous array of existing content. An impressive incorporation of sharing tools (the kind of options previously seen solely on Sony's PlayStation 3) allows you to enjoy the fruits of others' labours, which seems more likely when you're as duff at creating things as me. Or, who knows, you could be making my next favourite track - you're only limited here by your squishy human mind, as opposed to the tools on offer.
Perhaps Trials Evolution's best trick, though, is that it doesn't render the original game obsolete. Despite a sweeping range of improvements across the board, the core rhythms are just as entertaining in Trials HD as they are here. But it's in the way that Trials Evolution is explained and developed over its hefty course that pushes RedLynx's latest and greatest far above its much-loved ancestry.
Version Tested: Xbox 360