The Trail: Frontier Challenge
Category: Adventure, Simulation, Role Playing, Strategy
Release Date: (EU) 02.28.2018 (NA) 03.08.2018
Put on your best hiking moccasins and let’s hit the trail. The infamous Peter Molyneus (designer responsible for the ground breaking franchises Fable and Black & While) has returned with what he hopes will be another ground breaking and genre breaking title. The name of the designer and his independent video game development company, 22cans, gave me some pretty high expectations for The Trail: Frontier Challenge for Nintendo Switch. The Trail can best be described as a “walking simulator”; yes, that can be associated with low-quality games, but this game goes quite a bit beyond just being your average, every day walking sim.
After you sail away from England and land at The New World, you pick your character and name, meet a stranger who gives you a stinky backpack, and steal someone’s clothes. For some reason, upon embarking on this life-changing journey, the only thing you thought to bring with yourself aboard the ship was your skivvies (how embarrassing). You arrive in a port town – seemingly a fishing town and pretty soon embark upon your journey to your first camp site. Here, you meet Beatrice (aka the Crazy Red Bird Lady) who will be responsible for giving you a variety of challenges throughout the course of the game. First, though, she hands you The Almanac of Dr. Rufus – a guide to the trail & the New World. Conveniently, for plot purposes, Dr. Rufus is your uncle and he has gone missing. You send and receive letters from your family back in England, but the story in this game is…quite weak. It’s definitely not the fore-front of the game and seems to be a bit of an after-thought.
As you progress throughout the game, you will see items along the trail to pick up; press ZR and the items will magically fly in to your character’s hand (wish this was possible in the real world!). You don’t really control the directional movement of your character, you can only merely change whether they stop, walk, or sprint; apart from that, they just follow the trail from campsite to campsite.
Take the trail to Eden Falls, make your fortune in the New World
Most of your time playing this game will revolve around walking along the trail and collecting items…and then going back to previously trecked trails and re-collecting items. For being a walking sim created by a pretty legendary guy, it leaves much to be desired. As you reach each campsite, you will claim a little bit of EXP, but most of your EXP will be earned through completing requests you accept from Beatrice; these requests can be anything from racing another person to hunting rabbits along the trail. If you don’t win or complete it, you can always go back and try again. The main down-part is that trecking from campsite to campsite is just as boring as hiking in real life.
This doesn’t mean that the whole game is a total bust. One thing you are introduced to fairly early on is your skills tree. Separated in to 5 sections, you can choose to level them all up equally or focus on one or two at a time. Explorer, Hunter, Lumberjack, Cook and Tailor will grant you the skills to craft some much needed items and, once you reach the dilapidated township of Eden Falls, will allow you to build a specialized house (shop, really). The skill tree is actually fairly complex which does add a bit of excitement to the game. In each section you will begin as a Novice then work your way through Apprentice, Skilled, Expert and Master.
Throughout the game you will have “Life Goals” to accomplish; Trading, saving, earning money and completing objectives. All of these will grant you EXP – which you really need to be able to level up your skill tree. I found that focusing on one or two skills at a time worked best. If you do hunting, pair it with tailoring. If you do Lumberjack, pair it with cooking. It will be the best way to make what you need and trade for what you can’t make.
This brings me to trading. To be able to trade each type of item, “Food, Clothes, Tools and General” you first need to unlock that ability in each section of your skills tree. This is the one thing that you want to unlock in them all because, for instance, if you are a pro hunter and tailor, you’re going to need to buy food. If you haven’t unlocked the ability to trade food then you won’t often be able to buy it unless someone puts it up in the General trade. The further you progress through the game, the more necessary it will become to upgrade your pack whether you buy it or make it. For your skills, you will need to collect more and more items so you will need the room.
Once you build a house in Eden Falls, others will build houses around you, too. You can walk in to their houses and help them with creating their skill-specific items, or you can take and share items off of shelves. This comes in quite handy if you’re missing a rock or a feather to complete crafting one of your items. Eventually, you will run for mayor of Eden Falls and help boom its growth.
The graphics, at first seemed overly simple…but as I played the game more, they grew on me. It was fitting for the simplified walking simulator and the vector style of the graphics actually became a bit “cute”, so I don’t particularly have any negative remarks regarding the graphics. The game play, though, got a bit frustrating at times. Lag and puases were pretty frequent throughout the game and, when I tried to buy upgrades for my house, I had to press A several times before it finally registered that I was trying to purchase something. Even switching between menu options was a bit laggy and became a bit frustrating. The music though, when present, was nice and relaxing. This is something I can imagine helps create the ambiance of a nice walk through the woods…even when you are without pants in a snow storm.
I do have to say that, while I did enjoy the game, it didn’t live up to the Molyneux name. I expected something a bit more complex, driven, and polished. I do see this as being a nice mobile game, yet it’s really a let down for the first Molyneux title on the Nintendo Switch. Hopefully we will see something better in the future.
Docked: Not bad
Joy Con removed: Ok
Joy Con controller: Ok
Pro Controller: Ok
Buy The Trail: Frontier Challenge