Weekly Little Big Planet: two by four

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4×4 from hell. I found this one quite by accident, stumbling into something called 3D FP House that was suggested under the Cool Levels header, but which was really just a demo. Luckily one of the rooms in the 3D FP House, the bathroom, had level links to the designer’s other work. Since I mentioned my occasional longing to return to Screamer 4×4 last week, I decided to jump into 4×4 from hell. So glad I did. While I find the lack of a scoring system to be irksome, I loved the shape of the world. It perfectly fits into the game I can’t get enough of right now. Another driving game.

Only this one is on two wheels.

After the jump, the jump

You see what I did up there? I called Trials Evolution a driving game. I fully realize that the folks who love driving games will probably consider it just a platformer, and that they are probably right, but since I suck at driving games I felt like getting their goat. Is it goat or goats? Whatever it is, I felt like getting it. The last driving game I was any good at was Test Drive: Eve of Destruction, and I was really only good at destroying things in that. Except for one round where I went head-to-head in a little arena with a friend, both of us driving a little Pinto-like car called a Gnat or a Flea or something. But while that was a hilarious round, it was more about avoiding than actual racing. The last racing game I truly loved would have to be Midnight Club: Los Angeles. I still love it, but I’m not really any good at it. I just enjoy racing through my city and tinkering with my cars. It’s really too bad that you can’t do that with the bikes in Trials Evolution.

But then, again, it’s not really a racing game so I should shut up about that even though I did find it disappointing when I first heard it. I hadn’t yet grokked the fact that I was only playing a platformer since my first exposure to the game was racing on a couple of tracks against my buddy, Tom, who introduced me to the game. Eventually we switched over to trying to up his medal count so he could get to his next license test and I saw we were earning money.

“Cool,” I said. “We can trick out your bikes!”

“Nope. You can’t really do that.”

“Huh?”

“You can change what your dude wears and the color of your seat and stuff like that, but there’s none of that upgrading.”

Later I would realize I was just playing a platformer like LBP, and I’d adjust my expectations. Which was fine. I love LBP for what it is and Trials Evolution has come to scratch that same itch while providing me with the added benefit of making me feel more butch, which is no mean feat. It takes me back to my childhood in Colorado when I first learned to ride dirt bikes, which is pretty cool for a guy who is now a California liberal sissy. However, while it reminds me that I once did dangerous things, more than motorcycles Trials Evolution reminds me of riding my little BMX bike on the trails back and forth to elementary school, and setting up ramps on the dirt road in front of my house.

Setting up ramps. Damn. I’m suddenly thinking of how I watch my seven-year old boy every time he crosses the street to play with his neighborhood friends and realizing I’d better get around to loosening the reins a bit. I wasn’t much older than he is now when I was dragging plywood and logs and rocks out to the road in order to get some air. Just a little bit of air feels like so freaking much to a kid.

That’s why Trials Evolution takes me back, and appeals to me so much. I mean the tracks are wacky, and the jumps are ridiculous, but the way they portray the body physics when your rider is adjusting in mid-air, pulling on the handlebars and straightening out in a move that seems somewhere between a jockey on a horse and a rower in a scull, just zaps me right back. There’s something akin to muscle memory at work here, although I cannot possibly have caught enough air on my little homemade ramps as a kid to experience those kinds of moves, so maybe muscle hallucination is a better way to put it. Whatever it is, I feel something physical and familiar when I’m playing this game.

The platforming stuff in the game is great, to be sure. I love how your friends names appear as you take on a track, showing you how you’re doing against their times. The only problem with that being that I only have one friend playing the game right now, and while it gives me great glee to beat his times, at a certain point I realized that since I’d helped him upgrade his medals on a few of those runs I was actually only beating myself. That took the wind out of my sails a bit, but that’s okay. When I hit a jump, pull back and see my little dude do his in-air adjustment, and let off on the throttle so that there’s that lovely moment of silence, I’m right back in Colorado. I may only be six inches in the air, but it’s enough.

It’s well enough.

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