Adventure is worthwhile in itself, or so said Amelia Earhart. In that regard, The Trail: Frontier Challenge, is worthwhile in itself, too – a port of a mobile game that’s heavy on crafting, mini-games, and venturing forth into the wild blue yonder, the game’s joys do translate to consoles, and thus far, warrant its 11.99 price tag.
More importantly, the game feels fresh and exciting. There are no games quite like The Trail: Frontier Challenge, and in a world of FPSes and Open World titles, something this…weird and charming is an absolute delight – that it comes straight from the world of Mobile is exciting, too.
The basic gameplay loop finds you walking along a trail through various biomes and collecting items for crafting, which can upgrade your clothes, tools, food, and home. Along the way you hunt, chop down trees, and participate in challenges, all with some form of interactive element. So you’re in control of your slingshot while hunting, have to hit the tree in just the right spot to chop it down, and so on.
It’s a more Johnny Appleseed than The Oregon Trail, and that change of perspective helps the game feel unique despite similar premises of exploring the great American frontier while striving to survive as long as possible.
There’s also a heavy, real-time inventory management system, as items you pick up along the way will find themselves thrown in your backpack, and you have to either arrange them, or risk seeing them topple out of your bag. You unlock upgrades allowing you to stack certain items and gain bigger storage space, but you’ll almost always be teetering on the edge of overload.
What makes the game good (so far) is how these elements combine with a good soundtrack and sense of adventure to create a rewarding, fairly chill, gameplay loop. Grab stuff, craft stuff, sell stuff, upgrade stuff, venture forth, young padawan. The fact you’re along a linear path, and that there’s a good focus on story (and it’s pretty funny) just adds to the game’s unique charms.
Which, ironically, is the phrase I associate with one Peter Molyneux. Black & White, Populous, Dungeon Keeper and especially Fable 1, 2, and 3 all ooze personality and unique charm in some way shape or form. They were fundamentally personable games because they played with conventions and routinely put smiles on the faces of players – as long as players didn’t buy into the hype. And if you believe everything a sales person tells you, that’s a you problem.
But alas people did believe every word Molyneux would say about these games, and find themselves dissapointed after he raised sky-high expectations. It’s refreshing, then, that he appears to have either learned his lesson, or simply stopped giving a flying chicken about press – especially after getting jumped in an infamous Rock Paper Shotgun interview that was basically a public spanking.
Thus, it’s refreshing and exciting to thoroughly enjoy something wonderfully unique from Mr. Molyneux again. This industry needs veterans with big brains, big ideas, and wisdom on how to deliver from a unique point of view. Molyneux has faltered in the past, but they were faults of ambition. Grand notions smashed by harsh realities.
Perhaps that’s why there are no harsh realities in The Trail: Frontier Challenge. This is a children’s book version of the American Frontier. Jack London by way of Richard Scarry. It’s a rollicking, colorful, challenging adventure, where danger isn’t quite real and strife not particularly painful.
Perhaps there’s quite a bit of what Molyneux has been going through in this here game; and it was an opportunity to recalibrate in a M Night shyamalan-sian way. The Trail isn’t quite the return to form ‘Split’ was for Mr. Shymalan – it’s a little too repetitive and the framerate on the Switch is pretty unstable, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction after a frustrating period of disappointment and confusion.
To which I say, welcome back to the straight and narrow Mr. Molyneux. We missed you, and the road ahead is yours to travel down if you so choose.