Getting better at Trials isn't easy. But it's best summarised by my progress through what the game calls the 'final level'. You know it isn't, because there's another batch of levels on the Select screen, but you indulge the game for the sense of drama. This level took me 154 attempts out of a possible 500, on my first playthrough. Most of those retries were on the final obstacle: four stationary metal hoops, at different heights. Your task: to bunny hop from one to the next, then land with enough stability to trundle ten feet to the checkpoint.
At no point during those 153 retries was there a Eureka moment. But over the course of 15 minutes, every small victory, every breakthrough success, slowly became a point of reliable progress. By attempt 130, I was clipping the fourth hoop one in three times. When I finally made it into that beam of light, after 15 minutes that aged me a year, I said "Xbox, record that", in a tone of voice usually reserved for phrases like "screw you, and everyone you love".
Trials and tribulations
The question that hangs most heavily over Trials Fusion is whether the simple motorbike format, already exhaustively explored in Trials HD and Trials Evolution, can bear repeating a third time on Xbox. What does Fusion offer that's new? Well, there's an odd stab at a story, that plays out bizarrely like the competitive tannoy announcements at the beginning of the movie Airplane! It's not something that feels spoilable, but let's just say it's a very modern and unsentimental love story. There's also a new quad bike, a weighty beast with four-wheeled physics that's the polar opposite of the new and highly tactile Pit Viper - a sensitive bike with a sharp learning curve.
The beauty of Trials is that even the easy levels are satisfying. Landing well on a gentle slope rewards you with a churn of speed, a fraction of a second off your time, and a leapfrog up those dense leaderboards. Perhaps to make these levels interesting for returning fans, Trials Fusion adds challenges. There have always been secrets - an abundance of hidden items, shockingly well concealed for a game that's played in 2D. Each level has three challenges, explicitly listed at the start of a level.
Unyielding and Full Throttle are familiar from the achievements of previous games, and demand that you finish the level without leaning or releasing the throttle. A recurring and relatively boring challenge is to pull off a certain number of flips without faulting. Others are much more interesting and challenging. Find and complete an ultra-tough warp zone, for example - and our favourite, which involves nudging a golden football from the start of the track across the finish line.
Challenges are inessential to progress, but earn Career XP. Career, Multiplayer and Track Central XP is all pooled, to unlock player customisations - in other words, it's all entertaining fluff to keep the completists playing, and to guide them away from playing a purely single-player game.
A matter of course
Track Central, the place where you can download fan creations, and RedLynx's ongoing level generation, is obviously something of a desert at the time of writing. There's no meaningful content there yet, because idiots like me are dropping a start and a finish line, then publishing it to test out the process.
But that's how simple building a course is: on the world map, you can simply trace a route out over the pre-existing terrain, play it yourself, and once you've proved it's possible, publish it. You can drop in your own objects, explosives, ramps, and so on, and the engine will decorate them with moss and dust, appropriate to their surroundings. And if you're advanced, you can make the levels more interactive with triggers. This is where it gets deep - and how, with enough wriggling, the engine can be used to create pinball games, platformers and FPS games. This is beyond our modest creative skills, however - and we'll deal with Track Central in later coverage. The same goes for online multiplayer, which is being patched in free post-release, and Tournaments, RedLynx's plans to create ongoing competitions.