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If you approach Trials Frontier as a Trials game (capital “T”), then you’re in for disappointment. Although the game broadly echoes its console counterparts, its soul has been ripped out and replaced with the festering guts of a stinking freemium business model, and then spray-painted in mobile-friendly colors and cuteness. Yes, this is still a physics-oriented bike-balancer, set across ludicrously difficult-to-traverse tracks, but it lacks refinement and elegance. Also, it’s now largely about taking on missions from demanding cartoon characters, larger-than-life, over-the-top, hazard-filled courses (with explosions and fire and more explosions), and that encroaching sense that if you don’t spend some money on in-app purchases very soon, the game’s going to slam the door shut in your face, often and repeatedly.
For anyone who’s never gone near a Trials game, this is a trials (small “t”) effort that at first holds up fairly well against existing similar iOS titles that beat the series to the App Store. The controls balance on a knife-edge between irksomely twitchy and reasonably solid (and so are probably quite well suited to the genre), levels are short, and the game has a decent amount of character lurking. Initially, it’s quite good fun—if frustrating—nursing your cartoonish bike to the end of cartoonish courses, in order to appease the cartoonish demands of cartoonish folk lurking in the game’s central hub, a cartoonish saloon.
But even the most enthusiastic newcomers are likely to soon feel ground down by Trials Frontier. Races require fuel, which is initially in plentiful supply but after a couple of hours’ play becomes scarce, unless you’re willing to fill up the tank with acquired gems—or, of course, just buy more gems with real money. Occasional head-to-head races against robotically scripted A.I. require powerful enough bikes, and upgrades cost coins and take time to add. Again, loosening your wallet can alleviate grinding, but a few hours in, the costs become prohibitive to all but the most obsessive players.
Worse, though, is the fact that success in missions requires specific items to be acquired, and these are "won" by way of a spinning wheel at the end of each race. Fundamentally, then, you’re forced into a kind of Groundhog Day scenario, racing the same tracks again and again in order to secure a prize on the basis of pure luck—and not whether you heroically managed to cross the finish line within the tight time limit demanded to win a gold medal.
Eventually during testing, one of the saloon people cheerily mentioned there was a new object outside to investigate. We had a look and it was a slot machine, adding yet more randomness to the game and coming with its own countdown timer. It was at about this point that we realized Trials Frontier is presumably just a big joke, trolling iOS users en masse.
The bottom line. If you can deal with the business model, or are happy to waste a few hours before abandoning the game entirely, Trials Frontier is pretty, fairly playable, and reasonably fun. But stick around and the veneer is soon stripped away to reveal endless, soulless grinding to appease cartoon simpletons.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 6.1 or later
Decent graphics. Well-designed courses. Plenty of missions for people prepared for the long haul. Mobile-friendly approach.
Truly miserable business model. Prizes and progression depend heavily on luck. Overtly twitchy throughout.