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Hands-on with Trials Frontier - can this XBLA classic work with an energy system?
By Mark Brown 11 December 2013
Game Name: Trials: Frontier | Developer: RedLynx | Publisher: Ubisoft | Format: Android, iPhone, iPad | Genre: Arcade, Racing, Sports
Trials Frontier is not an iOS version of the ruinously addictive XBLA games Trials HD and Trials Evolution.

Sure, you're still riding a bouncy dirt bike over a crazy obstacle course of wooden ramps, loop-de-loops, spring boards, and explosive barrels. And you're still shifting your rider's weight back and forth in midair to land jumps the right way up.

But this free-to-play iOS game - out now in Canada and Finland ahead of a global launch in 2014 - is more like a checklist collect-a-thon that has been draped over the classic Trials gameplay.

The game still requires patience and perseverance, but now it tests your capacity to slog through an endless string of chores. So instead of working through a procession of increasingly difficult stages, your job is to finish missions for the cartoon denizens of Frontier's dusty desert outpost.

Trials Frontier

You might have to pull off a pair of backflips, or find a handful of spark plugs, or beat some goon in a one-on-one race. Some must be finished on specific courses, but others can be accomplished on any level you like.

While there's a nice mix of level layouts and designs - including deserts, mountains, cities, and bandit camps - you will be playing them again and again as you chase after different objectives.

They're also not particularly hard. Trials HD was about starting a bitter war of attrition with the level designers as you tried to safely ride over the next manic section of track. You'll rarely topple off your bike in Trials Frontier.

Instead, the game is most often about amassing a collection of junk. A mission might involve collecting some suspension springs which means finding a course that contains springs, finishing it, and then hoping that you win the right scrap on the random roulette wheel.

Trials Frontier

Here's where the free-to-play stuff comes in. If you didn't get the springs, you can either race again or just spend gems - the game's premium currency that's given out in small quantities or bought with real money - on more spins.

You definitely don't want to race again because that will use one of your five fuel cans. When those cans run dry you'll need to spend coins or gems to refuel or put your phone down and wait.

Money has an impact on races, too. If you can't catch up to an opponent you'll need to upgrade your bike which means chasing after scrap components (or just buying them with gems), spending coins (or real money) and then waiting for a timer (or spending gems to expedite the tune-up).

Trials Frontier

But while you're offered the choice to spend money on most aspects of Trials Frontier, it's not the most greedy free-to-play game around, and it handles monetisation with a surprisingly light touch.

You get free energy refuels when you earn loads of experience points, and you don't spend fuel for restarting tricky levels. Plus, as far as I've played there doesn't seem to be much grinding if you'd prefer not to pay and gems are given out quite generously.

But it's not the free-to-play mechanics that threaten to spoil this game. It's turning a rock-hard, nail-biting, teeth-grinding arcade hit into a rather soulless to-do list.

Trials Frontier

So while the playful joy of riding your springy trial bike over absurd obstacle courses is still here, it's not quite the same when the challenges are so toothless.

And while playing levels over and over again was a big part of Trials Evolution, that was to chase high scores - not to get more goes on a roulette wheel. Plus, racing your friends on leaderboards is always fun but best when it's a reflection of your skill, rather than how much time you've put into upgrading your bike

Trials Frontier looks good, controls well on touchscreens, and - when taken on its own terms - can offer short bouts of fun. But this is not the Trials we know and love.

Ubisoft and RedLynx have until early next year to take feedback from the soft launch on board, and hopefully turn Frontier into something that white-knuckled and callous-sporting Trials super fans can appreciate.

Note: This hands-on preview is based on a game in 'soft launch', so any prices and mechanics are subject to change before the game's worldwide release date.
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