The Trail: Frontier Challenge
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Release date: March 8, 2018
Price: $14.99 USD (same as Steam)
My girlfriend has been completely obsessed with The Trail on her mobile device, having devoted well over 100 hours to the free-to-play Editor’s Choice award-winner. If she has free time, chances are that she’s glued to her tablet walking virtual trails, collecting materials, crafting new outfits, cooking food, managing her very own town, and trading with other players from around the world. She lives for these endless adventure games.
Peter Molyneux’s indie studio 22cans released a more robust version of the game on Steam last year, dubbed The Trail: Frontier Challenge, and most recently ported the literal “walking simulator” to the Switch on March 8th. When I saw that one of her recent favorites was coming to my new favorite console, I saw it as an opportunity to (pardon the pun) walk a mile in her shoes and see what all the fuss was about.
However, while she happily continues to build her town and improve her pioneer 100 hours later, I’m struggling to find the urge to jump back in after just five. This is not a bad game by any means, quite the opposite, but it’s definitely not my cup of tea.
The Trail: Frontier Challenge is incredibly light on the story elements, tasking you with picking from a random assortment of premade pioneers (who you’ll play forever) and dropping you off at the start of your adventure in nothing but your underpants. You’ve left home and want to follow in your uncle’s adventurous footsteps, but aside from choosing how you want to reply to your concerned mother’s letter, you’re mostly playing the actual game. Unlike the story, however, The Trail has a lot going on.
The basic premise is to (automatically) walk from camp to camp, but it’s what you do during the walk that grows along with your pioneer. I started by grabbing whatever I could find, which is accomplished by pressing ZR while panning the camera around with the right analog stick. Whatever I focused on was highlighted in a dull outline, signaling that I could pop it directly into my backpack with a quick button press.
I picked up basic materials like sticks, rocks, and berries, and after reaching the next few camps I was awarded with a currency that allowed me to broaden my pioneer’s capabilities. There are five skill trees to invest in, from hunting and gathering to cooking and crafting, which allow you to sew basic clothing, craft slingshots to take down rabbits for their meat and fur, and brew together more potent consumables. I used some of those sticks and rocks to make a slingshot, dropped some (in-game) cash to unlock a few crafting blueprints, and within a few more trails had enough saved up to stitch together a better backpack to expand my inventory storage. Everything I crafted degraded over time, so I found myself making new stuff periodically and selling off the worn down pieces at camp for another type of currency that could be used to progress to another area or purchase better equipment at the occasional trader NPC.
You earn coins by completing challenges, like racing other players or collecting a specific amount of a certain item before reaching the next camp, which adds a bit of a competitive aspect to an otherwise casual experience. I took part in them because I had to, though, not because they were fun.
There’s more meat on The Trail: Frontier Challenge’s bones than simply gathering items while your pioneer trots along to the next camp, or taking on challenges to progress through the various skill trees. You can trade items with other players while resting at camp, though there’s no way to play with your friends (at least, none that I discovered). After several hours, you’ll even find yourself at a town where you can build your own house, eventually running your very own village where you become the mayor. Actual players move in and you can all work together to unlock discounts and other benefits, though playing with randoms does pose a certain risk. My girlfriend has told me quite a few horror stories about new citizens arriving just to use up the community’s crafting materials and collected funds, then bouncing. I never got this far in my own game, though. I’m still struggling to enjoy it.
However, I do understand why the gameplay loop would appeal to someone else.
The Trail: Frontier Challenge constantly awards the player and offers a meaningful progression system that’s likely to keep some of you coming back again and again — it’s just not for me. After spending the last 30 years playing various games on various platforms, I know what I like. I’m open to trying new things and even go out of my way to seek out unique experiences, but I just need a little more than clicking on items and completing mundane challenges.
The Trail: Frontier Challenge was at its best in smaller doses while playing in handheld mode, which mimicked my girlfriend’s approach to playing on her tablet. It’s not something I see myself coming back to often, especially if I’m looking for something to sink my teeth into on the TV, but I myself get the appeal and I know she’s looking forward to checking out a more robust offering than her free-to-play mobile version.
I had some technical issues with how the game performed on the Switch, most notably the choppy framerate and input delay within each of The Trail’s various menus. I’m also not a fan of having to repeat my tasks in any game just to progress. When I reached the first progression blocker that required more funds than I had gathered doing exactly what I was asked to, it felt like I had just wasted my time. Each new zone requires an increasingly large amount of funds to enter, which means replaying the same old trails, collecting the same items, crafting the same lucrative gear and consumables, and selling them to other players until you can afford it. That’s not my idea of a good time.
However, it’s a fine game that’s bound to suck hours and hours of your time away if it sounds like your “jam,” but it certainly appeals to a very specific audience that doesn’t include yours truly.
So, where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money. I trust in your ability to make the right decision! As always, if you have questions that went unanswered, please feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them as soon as possible.
Full disclosure: A digital copy of The Trail: Frontier Challenge was provided by the game’s publisher for the purchase of this review. While I’m sometimes given games to critique, I pride myself on providing an unbiased review to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for a game is irrelevant.
5 thoughts on “[REVIEW] ‘The Trail: Frontier Challenge’ is a Fine Game That Caters to a Specific Audience”
Nice overview! It doesn’t sound like something I’d play, but I know a few people who would jam on it frequently based on your description.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Thanks! Yeah, like I mentioned a few times, my girlfriend loves this game to death on her tablet. It’s just not for me at all.
LikeLiked by 2 people
Great review, and based on your description I don’t think I’d really enjoy this either. Without a story or real reason to do what I’m doing other than mini-endorphin doses, I get bored pretty quickly.
The first few hours I played I enjoyed. After that the grind wore me out. Having to collect so many materials and constantly replace equipment that breaks frustrated me.