We've probably said it a million times before, but we know a game's got something special when it attracts everyone in the VideoGamer.com office. I started to play Trials HD, the XBLA version of the cult classic PC stunt bike game Red Lynx Trials 2, alone in our gaming room. Wez poked his head in to have a look about an hour later, Seb then insisted he had a go on a particularly nasty jump, and before too long everyone in the office was howling with laughter and taking it in turns to try and get across these large metal spheres without crashing to a painful death. In Trials HD all you have to do is drive a motorbike sideways through an obstacle course, having only the accelerator, brake and rider position to play with, but few games are this much fun and offer such replay value.
It might sound like I've simplified things, but Trials HD really is that basic when it's broken down. A man sits on a motorbike (more of which are unlocked as you progress through the many stages) which you can move forward with the accelerator (RT), slow down with the brake (LT) and manoeuvre slightly by adjusting the rider's body position (left stick). Move the stick left and the bike will pull up as all the weight is on the back wheel, while moving the stick to the right will cause the bike to topple forwards - ideal for climbing up steep inclines. By manipulating the left stick you can propel the bike higher or further from the end of a ramp, which becomes an essential technique during the trickier stages.
1200 Microsoft Points might seem like a lot for what sounds like a simple game, but there's a load of content on offer here. Stages are split between five difficulties, and there's a tournament mode too (in which you need to complete a set of stages in succession), and each stage has a set of medals that can be achieved - getting gold isn't easy, so you'll be playing some of these stages over and over again. Add to that the fact that there are online leaderboards, complete with viewable replays for the top 5000 players, as well as Geometry Wars 2-style on-screen friends scores, and you've got a game that's hard to stop playing once you've got a taste for it.
Once you've got to grips with the controls and the way the bikes handle (which will only take 10 minutes or so) you'll be hooked. Speed might seem like the be all and end all, but fails (crashes or checkpoint restarts) are the main determining factor when it comes to who completed each stage the best - 10 minutes with no fails is classed as better than one minute with one fail. This is obviously easier said than done, though, and your initial runs through the stages will likely be restart heavy, with the game's instant return to the last checkpoint being an absolute god-send. We've had attempts at stages that have accrued more than 250 fails, but the sense of achievement once you actually nail an obstacle that had proven near-impossible to scale proves to be worth all the effort.
There are a tonne of extras too. Outside of the main stages there are 12 mini-games, each offering something different to the main stunt-based gameplay. An office favourite is the simple, but addictive ski jump, in which your man is launched from his bike and flies through the air before landing with a thud - getting the right amount of propulsion off the ramp and then launching your guy at the ideal angle is key. To be fair, almost all of them are great fun and ideal for some 'I can do better than that' multiplayer shenanigans. It's a shame then that there's no party mode functionality, meaning that there's no way to let the game keep track of who is doing the best out of a group of gathered friends.
And there's even more. Not content with giving you loads of stages and mini-games, Trials HD includes a level editor and the ability to share those levels with your friends. Sadly there's no way to share with the entire Xbox LIVE community (a LittleBigPlanet-style in-game marketplace would have been brilliant), but presumably if your friends list is big enough you could have a steady stream of new stages to play through. For an XBLA game to have this functionality at all is superb, so the fact it's not the perfect set up is easily forgiveable.
Trials HD works on a 2D plane, so there's no moving into and out of the screen, but the visuals are modelled in 3D and look superb. There's nothing flashy about any of it, but it feels as though it's been created with care and the lighting is top notch - which the developer likes to show off at every opportunity by placing exploding barrels all over the place. The WOOOS! and yelps from your rider add to the game's charm, too, and it's worth noting how fast everything loads. It's almost as if we've stepped back in time to the days of game cartridges.
We love Trials HD. At times there's a slight feeling that you're banging your head against a brick wall over and over again, with cries of "this is impossible" and "we're never going to do this - check the internet for help", but it's never impossible and you will eventually figure out how to complete every stage. This is a game that can be played alone against the leaderboard and friend high scores, or in large groups, with everyone shouting and hollering at every comedic mishap. It's a game that seems tailor made for Xbox LIVE Arcade and we can't recommend it highly enough.