Review: The Trail: Frontier Challenge (Switch)

If The Trail: Frontier Challenge has taught me anything, it’s that there’s a disparity between mobile and console games. Not that one can’t work in the other’s space; rather that when it doesn’t fit into a different environment, it’s very noticeable.

The Trail has you taking a bumpkin of your choosing across the pond to the new world to, well, hike. There’s no noble path here – you get a letter from your uncle that plants the travel bug in your mind, and you just solemnly set out to follow in his footsteps. In an even more curious twist, the bulk of the game is hands off. Your pioneer trots along of their own volition down the ubiquitous trail, stopping at encampments. While walking, you can swivel the camera to find spoils to gather as well as make your settler speed up. And that’s kind of it. The loop is you that you try to plunder the paths and fill your backpack, craft new items to further your gathering, and then set off again.

Later down the road (get it!?) you’ll also stumble across a town which will further add to your checklist of things to do in the way of outfitting things there as well as on your traveler. Point is, this journey is neither about the destination or the getting there – it’s about constantly upgrading things in a mostly mindless loop that triggers the basest instincts. There are tools you can build, such as slingshots and axes that you can use to start simple mini-games in which you gather different materials from those you’d find on the trail. And there are clothing options, which are beneficial as well as stylish, in addition to a bartering game that you can use to raise funds for various needs. None of it feels particularly interactive, which is a hard thing to swallow in a console game.

Thankfully the game is a joy to look at, as the world you trek though has a simplistic beauty to it, and it’s all accompanied by lovely ambient sounds and decent voice acting. I’ve found myself caught in a few bugs as well as hard halts to the game, but somehow I haven’t lost any substantial progress because of it. It’s noticeable, but doesn’t break the game.

Every time I booted up The Trail: Frontier Challenge, I couldn’t help but think it didn’t fit in on the Switch. Beyond the simple endorphin triggers that a mobile-targeted game like this is built around, something feels a little off with having to wait for it to boot only to then be greeted by a perfunctory and decidedly hands-off approach. However, as a time waster for a train ride or wait at the doctor’s office, I could see myself jumping in for a few minutes, upgrading my pioneer with new accoutrements and hopping back out as quickly… that is, I could see myself doing this if the game was on my phone.

I enjoyed The Trail, but couldn’t help but think I would have enjoyed it more in its natural habitat.

The Trail: Frontier Challenge is available digitally for PC, Mac and Switch, and as The Trail for Android and iOS. We reviewed the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: Review code for The Trail: Frontier Challenge was provided by Kongregate. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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