Here’s some trans-media content for ya, a little video tour of where I’m at in Trials Frontier. I’m using ADB’s screen record function here so there’s no audio and it hits the framerate a little hard in spots but mostly this is what it’s like to play; slick victories and grindy prize wheel spinning alike.
In my last post about Trials Frontier I was on the verge of unlocking a new bike and a new tier of races. That much went fine but shortly after the game’s progression hit one of those trademark Trials inclines that looks impossible to ascend.
The new tier was fun to explore and the courses really feel on par with Trials Evolution. There’s even a few physics-y gimmicks I don’t remember dealing with in any previous Trials game. It was around this point, though, that bike upgrades became a necessity and not just a periodic quest line. It doesn’t look like it by the tiny sliver of top speed or acceleration that you’ll get out of a $20,000 upgrade but you can definitely feel it.
And so the grind has been on for coins and crafting materials while I continue to beat my head against an array of ghost races. At least three different quest lines have you racing AI or live player ghosts to progress; one set is literally a bunch of races against a ghost. Despite the impressive number of tracks available (I’ve got 50 unlocked so far) the game seems to favor the same seven or eight courses which makes things feel even more tedious. Adding to the slow new pace of progress is some actual slowdown. Sometimes a race will load and the framerate on my Galaxy S4 will be cut in half. The slow-mo effect has helped me win a few races by giving me time to fine tune my landings but overall it’s a bummer.
All this could instantly be rectified if I were willing to pump some money into the game. For $5 I could get enough gems to skip the crafting materials and for another $5 I could buy enough coins to pay for the next few upgrades. But the races themselves still have to be run and won so I’m taking this new pace as the game’s slower middle age.
I still play several times a day and almost every day. The slot machine continues to provide fun new challenges and doles out some nice rewards between quest victories. Just the act of playing Trials still feels great and that’s enough to keep me going for the time being.
I was trying to write something up to explain the Watch Dogs Companion: ctOS app but it was spiraling towards 1,000 words which no one would ever bother to read. Instead, I spent last night setting up Xsplit, a webcam and my phone to record, side by side, the game and the app. Our dialog wound up being just slightly out of sync but the games line up pretty well and give you a clear idea of how the two work. I think it’s pretty astounding stuff.
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.
There are two types of mobile games that usually catch my eye. There’s the physics games like Stair Dismount… and there are coin dozers. Why are coin dozer games so captivating? Maybe it’s because I never, ever wasted my arcade tokens on them when I was younger. That’s not to say I didn’t want to watch my hard earned token set off a shower of coins that would enable my crippling wax bottle candy addiction. It just always seemed like a better value to keep playing shooters and brawlers. While arcades with physical coin dozer games have mostly fizzled out, the coin dropping fire from my youth never has.
First it was Game Circus’ Coin Dozer on iPad and their many variations. Then Coins vs Zombies which added all kinds of weird wrinkles. Now Sega has gone and combined coin dozers, collectible card games and role-playing games in the questionably dubious Dragon Coins. Why so uncertain about its dubiousness? Being a mobile game, Dragon Coins is naturally bogged down by stamina timers, friends lists, consumable items, and no less than four different currencies. That said, I have yet to be bombarded with ads or requests to spend real money. They’re both in there but the game doesn’t assault you with them which is good because there’s a lot going on in this game.
Forget about that mobile stuff and let’s focus on the gameplay. You’re some kind of hero in charge of a team of five monsters represented as collectible cards. Each has an elemental affinity, unique health and attack ratings and special skills. You choose four monsters, designate a Leader (which unlocks a unique skill of its own) and pick another players’ monster to fill in the fifth slot before heading into battle. Coin Battle!
The game is broken up into an array of chapters and areas and battles but there’s no story to tie any of it together. Basically, poke the Mission button and then the Start button. You’ll see the familiar coin dozer interface with your five monsters at the bottom of the screen and waves of enemies at the top. Your goal is to strategically drop coins in the upper area and hope they push coins off the bottom edge to charge up your monsters’ attacks. Some monsters take multiple coins to charge up so there always seems to be something kicking off as the momentum builds and the coins slide around.
As you attack with multiple monsters you’ll build up a combo causing enemies to spill gold and health coins and skill cubes across the board. This is where Dragon Coins feels the most satisfying. You can only drop a prescribed number of coins before the enemies attack but with combos you can keep filling the board with coins and tearing them apart. Collect the skill cubes and you can unleash all kinds of powerful, temporary boosts like making the pusher move faster, bringing up walls on the sides of the board and doing double damage. There’s a great tension to battles as you build up a glut of coins until they’re teetering on the edge and then try to manage your boosts as everything explodes with a single drop.
It’s a coin dozer game you guys! It’s not especially hard and you’re encouraged to grind past missions to build your team but that’s where the mobile stuff kicks in. Leveling up monsters requires you to Fuse and Evolve them with other random monsters you find while battling. This costs Gold Coins but you’ll never get that many coins without grinding old missions. Playing missions costs Stamina which slowly recharges over time or can be refilled with a consumable item. These items also cost coins but these are Rainbow coins, the really rare currency you can buy with cash. I’m several dozen missions into it now and have yet to be cut off. I usually do a few rounds at a time and quit just as I’d run out of Stamina for the hour. But I know it’s coming, the moment when the enemies get so hard or the Stamina drains so fast that the game offers that simple solution: hey man, you’ve got all those Rainbow coins, get a fix, I’m here for ya.
It’s icky. I hate those mobile game “features” but Dragon Coins is a strategic and fun evolution of the coin dozer. It’s got permanence and progression — quite a bit with 758 monsters — and for that I’m willing to deal with energy and currencies. Will I ever catch ‘em all? Doubtful, but for the time being it sure is fun (and free) to try.