Not that there’s much barrier to entry now that Trials Frontier is available for free on both iOS and Android, but for anyone still wondering you only need to answer one question: Are you good at ignoring free-to-play conceits like limited energy and for-pay currencies? If you said ‘yes’ you should already be clicking one of those links to grab the game for yourself. Because beyond the mobile game “features” is a Trials game that’s just as fun to play as any before it and light years better than all the other knock-offs.
I love that the very first thing you do — before the title screen, before being bugged about your Facebook account — is play Trials. You’ve got forward/reverse on one side of the screen and left/right lean on the other, now go run through this little course. If Trials Fusion is set in the far-flung future then Trials Frontier is the Mad Max post-apocalypse that comes after it. An almost-cel shaded look accentuates the old west/steampunk/retro-future designs and color palettes. It runs smooth, loads fast (reloads even faster) and has a comprehensive menu system that shows you all the little details of the various races. It also has crafting.
Because what modern publisher wouldn’t want to pad its game with resource gathering and pin them to a luck-based wheel of fortune spin regardless of how well you raced? It’s a gross mechanic that requires you to re-race the same courses in order to spin for fabulous prizes like… rusty nuts and blueprint scraps. The upside to it is that you get to play more Trials which, despite the grind for silly mats, remains fast and fun. The quests that require these crafting materials regularly coincide with bike upgrades so as you grind it out you notice the subtle changes to handling and speed as you clock faster times. I hate to say it but I’ve never gotten as much of a reward from these little improvements as I have with this game.
Naturally, you can pay real money to skip a lot of this junk. You can buy more gems to spin the spinner endlessly to farm resources. You can spend gems to get a bigger “gas tank” so you can run more races before “refueling” which, of course, costs gems if you don’t want to wait. Passing checkpoints in races earns you the coins needed for upgrades but you can spend gems to speed up the timer or purchase a coin doubler. Eventually you’ll hit the point I’m at right now where you need a new bike to continue onto new courses and you’ll be faced with the choice: grind or buy. So far I’m perfectly happy racing old courses to pass the time because the game feels so good to play. The one thing they won’t sell you is a way to remove the commercials that sometimes burst onto the screen after races, overriding your phone’s volume setting. Yeah, that’s a pretty big bummer at work.
So it’s time to ask yourself again, is all of that junk worth some sweet, free Trials thrills in your pocket? It definitely has been for me. Like having Spelunky ever at my side on the Vita, I’m happy just to know that Trials is always ready to go for a spin regardless of how long it takes me to unlock more stuff.