Ever since I played Trials HD on the Xbox 360, I've loved this series. I started out playing a similar game on my Sony Clié PDA, back in the far flung reaches of 2004 - ride a bike across an obstacle-filled course to collect flags. So when I found Trials many years later, I knew I would enjoy it - physics-based games were something I was always on the lookout for. Throw in explosions and ragdoll mechanics and it was a winner!
They've had a few multi-platform offerings, but this is the first actual Trials to reach a mobile device. That obviously meant it being a premium game or a freemium game, in this case they opted for freemium. However, as I played through I never got the feeling I had to buy anything. The premium currency is almost as easy to obtain as the parts you need to upgrade your various bikes and levelling up refills your fuel tank.
And that's the rub of the freemium - the fuel tank. It takes 5 fuel to do a track once, starting off at 20 maximum units. It goes up by 1 and refuels fully whenever you level up, though you can use the diamonds used as premium currency to buy more units and refill the tank. It refills by one unit every 3 minutes, meaning it can take a while to fill up as you progress further. However, I found it a useful time to take a break and do something else while I waited for it to refill. For instance, I'm currently waiting for it to refill as I type the start of this review.
The premium currency diamonds are on the spinner which greets you at the end of each level. This means you can potentially get 5 diamonds for 5 fuel, though if you're that lucky then you miss out on parts which are also on the wheel. The parts are used to upgrade the bikes, though diamonds can be used to purchase the parts: 2 diamonds per part. You also need coins for the upgrades, which are awarded for completing missions, passing checkpoints and leveling up. Of course, upgrades also take time to install, but you can still do missions and try to beat your and your friends' times.
As the game is being published by Ubisoft it of course has their UPlay connectivity. You don't have to, but logging in with your UPlay account gives you access to your friends' ghosts to race against. Trials Frontier also allows you to post your times to Facebook, even offering you diamonds if you do so. Currently none of my friends have this, so I was unable to race them, but I could race strangers from the leaderboards' ghosts - it's nothing that hasn't been seen before and is hard to screw up. It has been a feature since Trials HD, so they have it down to an art.
Now to the game itself: you are biking around the countryside in the frontier lands and are crushed by falling rocks. Nothing new if you're familiar with the series, but this happens half-way through a course. It was a trap, you find out when you wake in town, set by Butch to frighten off any dirt bike hero who showed their face. As you meet the town residents, you learn Butch was the town's previous dirt bike hero, but something happened that turned him evil and he escaped, stealing a load of stuff. The main story mission is finding Butch's hideout with the aid of the town's cartographer - by completing courses you are "searching" for it. There are several missions where you need a new bike or certain upgrades or parts, but you rarely have to get higher than a bronze.
However, when you are racing Butch or his henchman Turbo Lover Leroy, you have to almost always beat them. The first few races against Butch you simply can't win, but you have to be wary whether the photo finish at the end of other levels gets stamped "Mission complete". If it doesn't and you exit the level, that's 5 more fuel you need to spend to retry. You can retry at any time before that for no penalty, no matter how many times you mistime a cartwheel and smash head-first into the ground.
As you level up, you unlock different things at certain levels. One of the town inhabitants asks early on whether you would like to connect to Uplay - if you turn him down he offers again several levels later, with a bribe of a lot of money and a number of diamonds. About level 8 you unlock the ability to open the time capsule - which allows you to access content from Trials Fusion, By doing these additional levels you can unlock a unique outfit for the console game.
When you get to roughly level 11 experience, you unlock a slot machine. This gives you a spin every hour, which in turn gives you a challenge - beat it and you get another pull which gives you coins, tracks, bikes or diamonds. Given the amount of diamonds I wasted trying to get parts I needed by retrying the oft-fickle spin wheel, I await every lever pull eagerly. I had over 40 and now I'm back in single digits... But still unlike other freemium games, I have never felt coerced into paying real money. It makes me wonder how much input Ubisoft had into this game over Redlynx, because Ubisoft love their money.
Even if I used diamonds to refill the fuel tank and rush upgrades constantly, the game is definitely not short. Each level is under a minute, but there are lots of them, plus missions have you replaying them often. There are several courses for each area of the map, with more unlockable with the slot machine if you're lucky, and through playing Trials Fusion. This makes the game very lengthy and quite replayable.
As for the graphics, they are quite decent for mobile, but the 2D gameplay means they are quite simple. It lowers the file size of your courses and bikes immensely if only part of it needs to ever be shown after all. Inbetween courses you interact with the townsfolk when they want something from you - this is done with simple but effective still images of the townsfolk. They all look very distinct and well designed. The music and sound effects are nothing special, but then there is hardly any music. During a course there is no music at all until you hit the finish line.
On the whole, this is a very fun game. The only things I would want changed are the lack of music and the rate of refuelling - but those are hardly deal breakers. The game isn’t as difficult as the series usually is, but for me that’s a bonus. I don’t fancy getting annoyed at a mobile game and destroying my device in anger - something very few mobile games have ever tempted me to do. This is probably due to having a storyline and not being a perpetual grind for the top of the leaderboards, this time. The humour in the storyline matches the humour in the constant head-meets-explosion, which means this will stay on my mobile device as I await all the coming updates.
Trials Frontier (Reviewed on Android)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Though not as difficult as previous Trials games, the storyline helps make this a fun experience. The IAP’s are unobtrusive and the controls are responsive, making this a keeper.