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Trials HD, while reminding me of early gaming years, also provided a great physics based environment in which to have a lot of trial biking fun. The while here seems to be slightly more than the parts, as I found it hard to tear myself away.
I have an architect uncle. This meant that, growing up, I had some rich older cousins. One splendid Christmas afternoon they introduced me to a machine that seemed to offer a window into an incredible new reality where the sky was bluer, people blockier and world more inviting. That machine was the Amstrad CPC 6128 and the game was Bombjack II, a fine if undistinguished platformer. I played it until way past bedtime knowing full well that I was hooked.
My cousins were also rich enough to have trial-biking as a hobby. I knew about this because there were awesome photos of them, in really colourful (very 90s) protective clothing, and their sweet motorbikes in action, jumping over stuff. There were multiple trophies in the guest bedroom. I even got to see the bikes in the garage one day; it was the most exciting thing I'd seen in my first decade of life.
A few years down the line they went to university and ended up passing on the 6128 to me, which brought many more happy memories. Not least playing two-player Bubble Bobble (and getting incredibly close to finishing it), continue after continue, restart after restart, with my Mum when I was off school ill(ish) one day. Good times.
Much of this until I recently played Trials HD. It manages to draw together these different threads of trial-biking, early gaming and inevitable inadequacy! The game is relatively simple. With each stage, you take your motorbike from the start of an assault course to the end as quickly as you can, left to right, whilst trying not to fall off. The courses become harder and harder – with incredible gravity-defying jumps, riding up walls, loop-de-looping etc. - as you progress, unlocking new motorbikes, skill games and tournaments as you go. You are rewarded with a bronze, silver or gold medal for each stage, depending on how good you are at going quickly without falling off.
The game mechanic is a subtle balancing act between these dynamics, with acceleration, braking and flying through the air feeling just about right.
Trials HD has a strong emphasis on physics, as leaning forwards and backwards can often make a massive difference on how you progress. I found this to be debilitating, as I have a poor understanding of applied physics. The theory I can handle, up to A-Level. But in practice, is it better to go fast over a jump, spending as much time flying in the air as you can or should you try and stay in contact with the track as much as possible to maintain speed? Is it better to lean forwards or backwards when going into a jump? The game mechanic is a subtle balancing act between these dynamics, with acceleration, braking and flying through the air feeling just about right.
Experimentation is rewarded - there are checkpoints which you can get back to instantaneously by pressing B. This is a great feature, but to get a gold medal you nearly always have to finish the course without falling off once in an improbably difficult time. In this respect it is very much like one of the less forgiving games of my youth. You can press the Back button to restart the stage instantly at any time, but they have crafted another mechanic into the game to ensure that you keep on trying to better yourself. You are shown a Leaderboard of everyone you know and their best times at the end of each stage – haunting you with your friends' prowess. It's incredibly motivating, seeing that you only need to be a half-second quicker to be notionally ‘better' than your friends. There's also a bar at the top of the screen as you ride that shows how much progress each of your friends have made relative to you on a particular course.
I found myself trying to get Golds on each stage.
I'm not usually much of a completionist, but I found myself trying to get Golds on each stage. Was I trying to prove to my cousins that I too could be a Trials Champ? Did I want to make sure that I could really be somebody on the Leaderboard? Eventually, I lost interest and gave up. My base lack of physics knowledge seemed to be holding me back, and it gets to be much harder as you go on. Also, I grew to hate the protagonist. He shouts “Yarooooo!” and does a trademark Iron Maiden vocal wail when he's high up in the air – it's really annoying.
I still had fun here though and am glad to be able to remove myself from those youthful feelings of inadequacy. It's absurd, trying to prove anything using your thumbs.
But I've still got the record for the ‘Inside the Ball' skill game. Yarooooo!
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