For: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10-plus (mild violence)
Purely in terms of how certain returning features relate to their counterparts in 2009's "Trials HD," the modestly-titled "Trials Evolution" is very aptly named.
As a description for the total package, though, it's comically understated.
Superficially, "Evolution" indeed looks like the evolution of the same formula that made "Excitebike" so cherished on the original Nintendo Entertainment System. It's a motorbike game. It's set on a plane that's not quite 2D but not quite 3D either. The controls - one trigger for gas, another for brakes, and the left stick to shift the weight and angle of the bike - are as elementary as ever.
But "Evolution" (like "HD" before it) is a whole different animal with regard to its obsessive attention to the physics of speed, weight and angles. Even the most minor applications of gas, brakes and tilt can spell the difference between a brilliant run and a disastrous one. You'll receive a track's bronze medal simply for finishing it, but if you want the gold (zero crashes, a reasonably fast completion time), you'll have to continually manage all three facets to maneuver through some wildly creative obstacle courses. ("Evolution's" track designs are, predictably, a cut above "HD's" in terms of scope and imagination.)
If you played "HD," you already know these basics, and you likely also remember how quickly that game's difficulty spiked from zero to infinity.
This isn't a problem "Evolution" has. Getting golds on easy- and medium-difficulty tracks remains challenging, but the insane bike gymnastics required to even finish many of "HD's" medium-difficulty tracks are reserved solely for the highest echelon of "Evolution's" difficulty tier.
Even if you were good enough to handle "HD's" tracks and didn't need a more gradual difficulty climb, this likely is a positive development. "Evolution's" Xbox Live integration makes competing with friends' times even more fun than chasing those medals, and you need your friends to finish those tracks before they can offer up a high score to conquer.
Besides, "Evolution" won't run out of nasty challenges until its large community runs out of players.
For starters, you can race other players this time around. "Evolution's" multiplayer mode (four players, online or offline) is a glorified ghost race insofar that you can't collide with the other three riders on the track, and it's a literal ghost race on certain elaborate tracks that have terrain-altering switches each rider must be able to activate separately to keep things fair. But it's still a race to the finish line against three other riders you at least can partially see, and that's all it needs to achieve the intense air of a multiplayer battle where one mistake can make or break your finish position.
"Evolution's" multiplayer is presented in a circuit-style format - a collection of races, with the best combined performance taking top honors - and includes a persistent upgrade track that's good for unlocking new gear for your rider.
But "Evolution's" real showpiece is the upgraded track editor, which no longer is merely a track editor. As it was in "HD," the editor is accessible enough to grasp despite being so powerful that RedLynx itself used it to build tracks. The sharing interface is night-and-day improved, with numerous means of filtering creations based on popularity and difficulty, and every track has a global leaderboard to attack.
But in addition to offering a fresh handful of weird single-player minigames in which you launch yourself like a javelin or replace the bike with skis, "Evolution" blows the editor's doors off and lets you design minigames of your own. User-created events already exist where you can shoot hoops, go bowling and fire a steerable cannonball, and RedLynx itself built a first-person shooter. There's no telling what will materialize once players truly get acclimated with the tools, but it's a safe bet that "Evolution" won't run out of new content to discover anytime soon.