That 'just one more go' vibe has been part of Trials since the start, as you tried to make perfect runs across the game's multiple levels. Now Red Lynx has translated that feeling to mobile.
From our earlier previews, it seemed Red Lynx had managed to translate the control scheme - so important to Trials - to touch screen, and after a longer session can say the controls work excellently. Two sets of arrows sit bottom left and bottom right of the screen; the left pairing controls your rider's lean, the right your speed. It's simple, without frills, and works perfectly. We maybe shouldn't be surprised, as the setup resembles the team's previous handheld efforts in MotoHeroz HD. But if it works, why change it?
While the console release Fusion goes future sci-fi for its setting, Frontier goes West, as you race through dusty dirt tracks, abandoned mines, landfills and more, all filled with huge loops, crazy obstacles and big leaps. It's like MotoHeroz HD, just with a graphical upgrade.
You can upgrade your old rusty bike or buy a new ride with money earned during play, and even tune your bike with parts found during your rides, so there's extra incentive to replay older tracks outside securing a perfect three star rating.
As always, the rule is: the wilder stunts you make, the more money you earn. So you start taking a chance or two during races, but with broken bridges and exploding barrels there are plenty of ways for things to go wrong. Again, there's echoes of MotoHeroz here, just with a two-wheeled vehicle.
But maybe MotoHeroz HD didn't sell as expected. Perhaps that's why Ubisoft has decided that freemium is the direction its mobile titles need to take. And an exception hasn't been made for Trials Frontier.
Despite how you feel about the system, it feels odd layering a slow-paced template onto a quick-fix arcade racer that's always been characterised by lengthy gaming sessions as you replay tracks to secure a perfect rating. How'd you feel if you had to stop playing just as you got a feel for a course because you ran out of fuel?
Unfortunately, such a system is built into Frontier. A on-screen fuel tank gradually diminishes each time you race or restart a track. After seven, eight runs, you're out of gas. You've the choice of either waiting fifteen minutes as the tank refills to try another race, or cough up real-world cash to get yourself back to racing quicker.
You start with a maximum fuel capacity of 25 units. Using diamonds collected in-game you can increase this capacity, one unit per 20 diamonds. Diamonds don't come by frequently, so alternatively you use real-world money to buy more there's different tiered packages - the cheapest at £2.99 buying you 200 gems, all the way up to £69.99, which gets you 5800.
So, the question: can you live with involuntary breaks? It's a normal obstacle with the freemium model, but other elements that come with free-to-play also invade Trials' usually slick arcade facade. We have to converse with town residents in tedious conversations in multiple dialog boxes to pick up new missions, and compared to the fantastical designs of Fusion, the cartoonish hue of Frontier feels cheap.
The process to get onto a track - normally in a blink of an eye - is overly long. Start the App, avoid the Uplay invite (sure it allows you to access Friend's ghosts to race against, but why not just use the already functioning Game Center instead?). Click on one of the town's buildings, click on one of the residents. Talk to them, agree to a race (or decline when it turns out you need UPlay support). Click the mission, click Start (if you have enough fuel).
That's a lot of clicks, a lot of fannying about. And we don't even touch on scrolling through the dialogue branches. You can expect some more when you finish a mission as well; more dialogue, a spin on a wheel of fortune, and a notification on your current progress.
It completely kills the immediacy of the arcade thrills that normally permeates the Trials series. The overlay just doesn't work, full stop.
If it seems we're talking too much about the freemium aspect of the game here, it's because its such a core aspect of the experience. It feels at times that the foundations of the franchise - the racing - takes a back seat.
While it's good that the game's free, we wish Ubisoft had taken a different path, or went in without the belief that mobile gamers are so stingy in paying for quality products they needed to supersede gameplay with the freemium model.
A model that's hard to overlook when the game's main competitor, Bike Baron, is available for a few quid on the App Store and offers unlimited racing - as well as a track editor.
Bike Baron was a number one hit in 81 countries, was on this week's Games on the App Store selection and has had millions of downloads so far. Why not concentrate on beating it? The gameplay is largely similar, with the added bonus of a level editor on Barons ride. But while Trials betters the Baron on graphics, it drops it big on the freemium package, even if it seems that you can complete the game without ever having to pull your wallet out... as long as you wait long enough.
And that problem impacts our verdict. Frontier does have solid gameplay and great controls. But its locked behind unnecessary timers, impersonal artwork and other freemium garbage. Trials Frontier can indeed be a lot of fun, but the game time runs out far too quickly.
So we're sticking with the middle ground with the score. How you feel about freemium can dictate if you add two extra digits or remove two from our verdict.
It's an annoying conclusion to end with, because there is plenty of content spread over a myriad of levels, upgrades and various motorcycles. The gameplay is top notch, and it is fun. With this review done, we'll not picking be picking the game up again. You'll find us on Bike Baron, MotoHeroz HD or Trials Fusion, games that we can play when we have the time and inclination.