Diamonds are forever.
Would you like the good news or the bad news? Unfortunately Trials Frontier comes laden with heavy doses of both.
The beloved Trials series has made a name for itself on consoles with a particular control scheme that equally rewards and punishes players based on precision weighting of the bike. The fine line between shifting momentum forward or backwards into the Goldilocks zone to clear an obstacle and land without wasting precious time in the air is intoxicating. Frontier has the formidable challenge of replicating such nuanced controls on a touchscreen, and for the most part it does a pretty good job.
Played on mobiles and tablets, Frontier isn’t Trials as you know it, and not to be confused with the upcoming PC and console Trials Fusion. It’s been trimmed down to accommodate the quick dose approach that has been so successful with Rayman on mobile, resulting in stages considerably shorter and less complex than expert Trials junkies will expect.
The precision of a controller is emulated well by just four massive arrows anchored to the bottom of the screen. Accelerating and braking are controlled by nice, big buttons under your right thumb, while shifting forward and backwards is mirrored to similar buttons under your left thumb.
Without the physical feedback of a controller, flipping in midair is more reliant on muscle memory, but once you’ve learnt how time equates to rider performance, it’s almost as intrinsic as its console origins.
The precision of a controller is emulated well by just four massive arrows anchored to the bottom of the screen.
The addition of a story, of sorts, is the biggest change to Frontier. Cutting seconds from your time isn’t really important, as the focus shifts to solving problems, bike style, for animated characters in exchange for coin to upgrade your ride.
That brings us to the bad news. While Trials Frontier is a decent game, stripped down fairly well for mobile devices, the freemium model is more hassle than it’s worth. I’ve been skeptical about micro-transactions ruining iOS and Android games for a while, and Frontier’s initial $0 price tag isn’t anything to be celebrated.
Boss challenges and later levels are impossible without bike upgrades. Before introducing you to the mechanic, Frontier pits you against an opponent that cannot be beaten, demonstrating how important it is you pay attention to the convoluted upgrades system.
Upon finishing a race, you’ll get a chance to spin an items wheel to “win” a random prize, usually a new part. If you don’t get the desired part, the race can either be replayed, or you can essentially just buy the ruddy thing using diamonds, Trial’s in game hard currency earned by completing races, to spin again. As is the case with most freemium games, you’ll never quite have enough diamonds, and need to top up from your real world cash.
Progress is rewarded by medals and coins, which are used to upgrade bikes once you have the parts, but it’s how many diamonds you can score, or buy, that becomes Frontier’s soulless objective. You never have to spend any real money, but as soon as a second layer is added to upgrades, requiring several items to be crafted before they can be used, it becomes a situation of deciding to start spending too much money or accept a painfully slow grind that, honestly, isn’t worth it.
Even if you do earn all the parts and enough coins without paying for diamonds, Frontier will lock you out for not paying. At first, you’ll need to wait 30 seconds for upgrades if you’re not going to pay the diamond (real money) fee, but steady increases sees lockouts hitting 24 hours.
If you’ve somehow kept the purse strings tightened, Frontier’s fuel system will eventually demand you pay to play. Races consume between five and seven units of fuel, and once depleted you can either wait an hour or so for more, or just pay. Want to keep playing? Either pay now, or comeback tomorrow and be faced with the same predicament.
Admittedly, Frontier’s overcomplicated micro-transactions come across a little harsher in theory than they actually are. As a mobile game, it’s probably best played in 10 minute daily bursts, and as such you’ll never need to wait for fuel and can leave upgrades locked overnight. However, the system just doesn’t fit Trials. There’s nothing more frustrating than having a couple of minutes to kill with a game that won’t let you play for an hour. It mightn’t be the current fad, but Trials Frontier would have been much better served as an outright purchase than a freemium offering.
The Final Verdict
Trials Frontier does a commendable job converting precise console gameplay to a touchscreen. The stages are shorter, and it’s not as frustratingly addictive as the console games, but as a mobile option the gameplay is solid. Unfortunately, the freemium pricing structure isn’t. It’s just too much hassle to be worth playing more than a couple of times, with real money required to avoid a slow grind to unlock items and then again to avoid waiting overnight for upgrades to complete. The micro-transaction system is too heavily ingrained in progression, and in the end gives more reasons to delete Trials Frontier than continue playing.
Trials Frontier is out now on iOS and coming soon to Android.