Version tested: Xbox 360
There are two types of videogame: those in which you develop an avatar's skills, and those in which an avatar develops yours.
Story games – the Zeldas, Final Fantasies and Metroids – generally fall into the former camp. As you lead these characters on a journey, so they grow and develop, slowly becoming more fully realised versions of themselves. Mile by mile, Link gains the ability to use a boomerang, a crossbow, hover boots and so on, while Cloud guzzles down experience points that allow him to summon ever more stentorian spells.
When you reach the end of these characters' journeys and put down the controller as the credits roll, you will have levelled your avatar to its final form, the Polaroid likeness finally easing into its full clarity and colour. The character will have learned lessons and gained new abilities and, just maybe, in the pre-determined journey you prodded them along, you might have caught some truth about your own story reflected in theirs. But you probably won't be a changed person for it.
Conversely, the player that emerges after 25 hours spent with Trials HD will be different to the one who went in. Here is a game uninterested in its character's journey from newcomer to expert, but entirely obsessed with its player's journey from incompetence to proficiency. As such, the game follows the great tradition of games such as Tetris, Breakout, Peggle, Super Meat Boy: all experiences that level the player, not the avatar.
Link, Cloud and Samus are given bigger, better weapons and tools with which to touch their worlds, but the effort lies in acquiring those tools, not necessarily mastering them. Conversely, in Trials HD and its ilk, you have just one tool – in this case a man and his motorbike – and the journey is all about learning how to use it.
Before we get too excited, in the case of Trials HD, the skill you learn has almost no practical application in the real world. After all, where else is is it a useful skill to be able to balance a 30-pixel-high motocyclist's centre of gravity with precision in order to bounce across giant inflatable balls? An Evel Knievel-themed ball pool party organized by The Borrowers?
Fun is not always conflated with usefulness, though, and as you journey through Trials HD, the progression in your own abilities is tangible. A level that seemed impossible four hours ago, requiring scores of attempts and instant restarts to learn, suddenly seems unfeasibly straightforward, and you wonder what all the fuss was about. Games like this are microcosms of education, allowing us to grow from infancy to maturity in a matter of hours. Therein lies their great appeal; their big thrill.
Trails HD's Big Thrills add-on understands all of this. RedLynx knows that the players sitting down with the game in December 2010 are very different to the those that sat down with it in December 2009. They are veteran experts who boast the precision muscle memory necessary to suspend an Xbox controller's analogue trigger at half-throttle while simultaneously gently rocking the rider back and forth. In short, the developer has levelled its audience, and this pack reflects that. The 40 levels in this DLC pack – which includes 10 competition-winning, user-generated tracks – have been designed for the capable.