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Trials Frontier review: Classic 2D racer lives up to its legacy

A game that started out for browsers in 2000, soon went to desktops and even consoles. But now you can play the latest version on your smartphone and it's better than ever.

Jason Parker

Jason Parker

Senior Editor / Reviews - Software

Jason Parker has been at CNET for nearly 15 years. He is the senior editor in charge of iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.

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5 min read

Trials Frontier is the first time the Trials motocross franchise has come to iOS, but with an enormous amount of content and tight racing gameplay, it's a must have for racing fans.


Trials Frontier

The Good

Trials Frontier has excellent physics-based 2D racing. There is a ton of content to explore. New bikes and upgrades keep the game interesting and addictive.

The Bad

The Freemium model limits your playtime. The throttle will occasionally stop working for no obvious reason.

The Bottom Line

With tons of tracks, unlockable bikes, and several quests, Trials Frontier is a great download for 2D racing fans, but beware the freemium limitations.

The only problem is you're going to need a little patience. Trials Frontier is a freemium game that limits how much you can play in a sitting. It's one of my least favorite freemium strategies for getting money out of users, but in the case of this game, the wait times are worth it to me.

Originally a Java Web browser game all the way back in 2000, Trials has seen many iterations. It finally made it to Windows desktops in 2007, then even had a release on XBox 360 in 2012. But this year it's hitting all the major smartphones and gaming platforms, including this debut on iOS.

Trials Frontier looks great on iOS (pictures)

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Controlling your bike

The game starts you off easy, letting you go through a couple of runs to learn the ropes. As a 2D racer with tight physics-based gameplay, you're not worried about turning corners; instead, you control the throttle with buttons on the right, and have buttons on the left for tilting your bike forward and back.

Learning how to control your bike is the key to success in this game because navigating over jumps, up steep hill climbs, and over the game's many obstacles takes precision if you want to go for good times. It's also not always about speed; many of the challenges in the game require you to get a certain number of forward or backflips, so knowing how to tilt your bike just right is mandatory.

One problem I found is that sometimes the throttle will turn off inexplicably. It's not a complete showstopper because you can always reset a race, but it can be annoying when you're having a great run and suddenly run out of juice.

An insane amount of content

After the initial tutorial levels, you'll reach a village that becomes your base camp for the rest of the game. In the village, a saloon acts as the place to get quests from the game's many silly characters, a garage lets you upgrade and build new bikes, and the in-game store lets you spend real money for in-game cash. Your main goal is to chase after an evil rider and his gang of nefarious sidekicks, and vanquish them by beating them on one of more than 70 racetracks.

Not only are there an enormous number of tracks, but there are 10 unique environments that include rocky deserts, urban factory settings, and even haunted house-themed levels. You'll be racing them all many times as you complete more than 250 quests with challenges that have you doing specific numbers of flips, popping wheelies, collecting items, and trying to get the most air possible.

As I played through this game over the past few days, I was amazed at just how much content there is, so if it's game variation you're looking for, Trials Frontier has it.

Upgrading parts and bikes

As you progress, you'll meet new characters in the saloon that will help you find the blueprints for new bikes, and parts to upgrade your current bikes. Each of these require you race through a track to the end, then spin a wheel to win a piece of a blueprint or a bike part. When you fill out an entire blueprint, you can enter the garage to build your new bike.

Parts are used for bike upgrades to give you more control and power. But Trials Frontier also has a part upgrade system, that lets you fuse three lower tier parts into one upper tier part. The better the bike, the higher quality parts you'll need, so fusing parts together for upgrading bikes becomes a sort of game within the game.

Certain tracks require you have a specific bike to enter, so upgrading and finding blueprints becomes a major factor in your success.

Even more to do

Amidst all of the racing and upgrading, certain quest characters will develop new technologies for you. One of them is a slot machine that gives you a quest, then, once completed, you get to spin again to win money, blueprints and more. You can only use the slot machine once an hour, but it's just another fun extra that adds variety to the game.

Freemium issues

I've written before how I feel about freemium titles, and Trials Frontier uses a model I don't like, but surprisingly find bearable.

In this game you have a limited amount of fuel for racing. Each track has a fuel requirement to enter, so when you run out of fuel, you'll either have to pay real money or wait for it to recharge.

I've found that I can get about six or seven races in before the game stops me from playing, but that doesn't include restarts within a race. So even though there's a limit, you can restart over and over to get that perfect run without using additional fuel.

Though I don't like that it limits my playtime, I'm usually fine with what the game gives me in a sitting. Fortunately, you never have to wait too long for your fuel tanks to fill up, but it's something to note before downloading this game.


Trials Frontier is not only a great iOS game, but a worthy new edition to a long-running and popular 2D racing franchise. The physics-based gameplay is excellent and there is so much here to explore that you'll almost never run out of stuff to do.

Not only is there a ton of racing content, but you also have upgrades, new bikes, and new areas of the map to keep you busy. This game has a lot of replay value, and I've found that I keep launching the game to go for that next upgrade and try my luck "one more time" at the slot machine.

With all that said, it is a freemium title that limits your playtime. So, while I recommend this game wholeheartedly based on gameplay and content, you'll have to decide if the wait times will bother you too much to enjoy Trials Frontier. In my experience, the the vast world to explore and great racing action are worth putting the game down a little while to recharge.


Trials Frontier

Score Breakdown

Setup 9Features 9Interface 8Performance 7
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