Best Games - Trial Bike
Imagine that all of the controls for a game exist on two axes. Up, down, backward, forward. That’s it. That’s all. I mean, Pac-Man manages to operate on only two axes, so maybe it isn’t that difficult to imagine. Now, how many games can you think of that both only use two axes for input and sparked a decades spanning franchise. A franchise that remains successful to this day? It’s probably only Pac-Man and Trial Bike, or Trials, as the series would come to be known.
I’ll back up slightly. Trials, in the real world, is a competition where people riding motorcycles attempt to climb, hop, and navigate increasingly bizarre obstacles. Rocks, logs, concrete blocks, child play structures, stacked barrels. If you could find it in a landscaping storage yard, these folks will probably ride a motorcycle on it. Some of the obstacles are twice as tall as the riders zipping over them and they roll up these things like a squirrel climbing a tree. It’s unreal to watch. I can honestly say that Trial Bike was my introduction to the sport. It’s the sort of thing that would pop up on late night sports networks between infomercials. So, of course, It’s amazing source material for a video game.
Here we have this Finnish game from the early 2000s that borrows its theme from an obscure motorcycle obstacle course competition. The original game was made in Java and then ported to Flash. You could play it in a browser. Nothing about that description should make you think ‘franchise spanning two decades’, but new games in the Trails series come out at a fairly regular pace. Not only that, they are still made by the original developer. Now they are highly polished 3D affairs with lots of particle effects and ragdoll physics, but they haven’t really deviated from the initial concept. Ride a motorcycle, climb obstacles, try not to crash. It just works.
The other thing that works is the control scheme. Web games of the early 2000’s were fairly simple out of necessity. There was no real way to stream high quality graphics to you at that time. You couldn’t use a webGL plugin to play a game in your browser. Web games were quick things that you could drop a few minutes on here and there. Unfortunately that does mean that a lot of them have been lost to time. There probably aren’t many that you would still want to play, but from a preservation standpoint, it’s upsetting that some games might be lost forever. Tangents aside, the control scheme of Trial Bike is really something special.
Like I said before, Trial Bike only uses two axes, or four buttons. Forward and back control the throttle and brake on your bike, up and down control where the rider balances their weight on the bike. When you press down the rider sits lower on the bike, but also further back on the seat. When you press up the rider stands and leans over the handlebars. Shifting the riders weight changes how and where your bike grips the ground. Press down and forward on the throttle and you can make you bike do a wheely. Press up and slam on the brakes kicks your back wheel up into an endo. Feather each of these controls just right and you are doing some Trials! You climb straight up that pipe that looked impossible to scale. You hop those boxes and land each tire perfectly straddling a dangerous gap. You ride just on the edge of control. You only use four buttons.
The legacy of Trial Bike is sort of a wild one and it’s really no surprise. Trial Bike is one of the best games.