Pretty action puzzler deserves your monies
We previewed Trine a few months ago and were charmed by its presentation and fluid, physics based gameplay, with just a few reservations about its longevity and the depth of the puzzles. Ahead of its release on PSN and PC on July 10th, we managed to get a gander at the release code for a full review.
Trine takes part in a magical, timeless world where glorious steampunk inspired visuals meld seamlessly with dream-like forests and castles. Our tale begins one dark night as a terrible curse is sweeping across the land, while a ruthless thief takes the opportunity to sneak into the castle to steal as much as she can. When she touches a magical object, she becomes trapped and, along with a ineffectual wizard and dim-witted knight, becomes bound to the Trine. Now the three strangers must work together to reclaim a number of ancient artefacts in order to break the spell and, naturally, save the kingdom.
The key conceit of Trine lies in the fact that while all three characters are always available, players can only control one at a time. Each has their own special abilities and powers, without which you will be unable to progress. So you will use each one in turn as you come up against obstacles in a fluid style which is reminiscent of the classic Lost Vikings. The Thief is more nimble than the others, and packs a bow and arrow as well as a grappling hook which can attach to any wooden surface. The wizard lacks any obvious offensive moves but can levitate objects and (most impressively) can create objects out of magical thin air – meaning you will never be short of supplies for that box stacking puzzle. The knight is the most straightforward of the bunch – he hits things well and has a nifty shield, handy for deflecting inconvenient fireballs.
But Trine is more than just a new take on Lost Vikings. Its entire world is built around accurate physics, which effect how each puzzle works. Box stacking is par for the course but objects will break and interact realistically in Trine, even going so far as to vary the weight of the characters as you flit between them (let's just say that the knight is quite fond of food). Out of the way potions can be knocked down with a handily created box and while you can manipulate platforms and the ever present see-saws with the wizards powers, you can also just shoot them with an arrow or hit them with a sword and the effect will be just as natural. This heavy physics base to Trine means that the puzzles are rather more free form than we have come to expect from the genre. There are usually multiple solutions and, truth be told, players will often be able to bull their way through with excessive jumping in a way which was clearly not the most designers intent.
Trine also distinguishes itself in its strong action-oriented focus. Rather than leaving the player with infinite time to solve the puzzles, they are constantly assaulted by a stream of skeletal, undead foes. While the enemy types are a little repetitive (basically archers and warriors) the quality and fluidity of the platform based 2.5D action is a real joy to play, as you leap from foe to foe – dropping them with arrows before transforming to the warrior for some close up metal on bone work. Surprisingly, combat makes up a big chunk of the game, with some fiendishly placed spawn points making it difficult to find the time to assemble a stack of magical boxes.
And just when you think you've discovered all Trine has to offer, it delivers another surprise. The game features a RPG-like upgrade system, with experience being traded for more skill with your chosen weapon. Add in the inclusion of a surprisingly large range of collectible items, some of which are brand new weapons, while others add new skills and abilities and you'll find the customisation options are really quite deep. Items can also be swapped between characters at will, allowing you to beef up stats whenever you choose. And the whole thing is wrapped in a superbly presented package; the score is a thing of understated beauty and the visuals run the gamut from charming and dreamlike to dark and sinister, without ever being less than stunning. Trine makes the most of its essentially two-dimensional nature by providing rich and detailed foregrounds and backgrounds along with smooth animation and excellent character design to deliver perhaps the best looking platformer since the HD revamp of Bionic Commando.
And we haven't even mentioned the co-op mode yet. While Trine is perfectly enjoyable in single player, the game really comes alive in multiplayer. Up to three players can join in, with each taking on the role of a single character at a time. What follows is a mad scramble (in my experience, everyone wanted to be the thief!) as all three must overcome the obstacles together to succeed. The result plays like a totally different game and is perfect for creating great group actions. For example, the thief can snipe from on high as the knight covers the back of the wizard so he can prepare an escape route and the non magical characters can be given an unsteady lift on a levitating box. Most importantly, this mode is incredibly good fun as you curse and laugh your way to victory against physics and undead enemies.
And, for some added enjoyment, the person who is player 1 can swap out the other characters at will – perfect for stranding a friend or loved one in a swarm of skeletons as a weedy wizard! At present, Trine only supports local multiplayer (although that may change with the later XBLA release) which is particularly strange for a PSN title.
Trine is gorgeous to look at, smooth to play and features great added replayability with its co-op mode. If we had to be critical (which we do!) the puzzles are a little too easy to be truly satisfying, with the only thing changing at higher difficulties being the toughness of the enemies. Most moments involve getting from a low place to a higher place with the application of the wizards powers and the grappling hook, while the knight dispatches increasingly difficult enemies. There's nothing wrong with this structure and it certainly never gets boring but we would have liked to see a few multiple step puzzles or layouts that required a little more subtlety. That being said, the challenge is upped considerably when playing in co-op mode by the need for all characters to progress, so perhaps the relative ease of the single player is as a result of favouring the alternative game mode.
The pricing of this offering is a different issue and it seems to vary wildly – it will cost around €20 on PSN, €30 on Steam and a little more on PC from Amazon (pricing now is £30). This is a little high for what seems like just another downloadable title but the fact is that Trine is more engaging and enjoyable than many a full release which flits through the Game.ie offices and the price reflects that. If you want an entertaining, incredibly pretty puzzler with an intriguing multiplayer component, you really couldn't do better than Trine at the moment.