Trine is a 2D puzzle-platformer from developer Frozenbyte for the PlayStation Network. The gameplay is physics based and uses an old world fantasy setting as a backdrop for the mythical action. The high quality graphics design and tight platforming elements really help this game stand out of the crowd, but at $20 is there really enough to make you want to visit this fantasy world again and again?
The story that sets things in motion is simple. The medieval world has fallen under the dominion of the undead and life is quickly draining from the kingdom. One day a clumsy knight, a sneaky thief, and a somewhat incompetent wizard happen to touch an ancient artifact called the Trine at the same time. The magic of the Trine fuses their souls into one allowing them to switch between any of the three physical forms on the fly. This mechanic forms the basis of the gameplay, whether playing solo or with two friends locally. The idea is that each character controls differently and comes with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses.
The Knight is the muscle of the group. He is heavier and slower but best equipped to tackling combat situations. His strength also makes him capable of grabbing and tossing large objects around the level. He also has a shield that has a full 360 degree range of motion using the right analog stick. The Thief carries a bow that can also be fired in any direction with a flick of the analog stick. She is slightly faster and can jump higher than the other two and is the best at getting around thanks to her grappling hook. Then there is the wizard who never learned how to cast fireballs, so instead focuses on moving and manipulating objects with magic. He can also create objects, such as floating platforms or blocks to jump on or hurl at enemies.
Physics driven gameplay means that the characters and objects are governed by the law of gravity within their environment. This aspect of the game works really well with very few instances where the actions seemed inconsistent with the rest of the world. As the wizard, creating objects and dropping them on top of enemies to crush them feels authentic (as authentic as a fantasy game can be anyway). The laws of inertia and momentum are uncompromising, forcing you to find realistic solutions to puzzles involving swinging pendulums and cascading platforms.
The level design is commendably intelligent and at the same time mythical and creative. The only objective at the start of each level is to traverse from left to right, but a lot goes on along the way. Settings featured include abandoned villages, dark dungeons, and fiery forges. Each level has multiple secret areas, replete with items and other bonuses that reward exploration. One disappointment with regards to the levels in Trine is the lack of anything towards the end to punctuate the stages. A few times you will encounter an underwhelming boss fight, but for the most part you just move on to a brief story sequence before commencing the next section.
Combat is my biggest gripe with Trine. It is not bad per se, just rote and uninspired. Hacking away with the knight is fine, and switching to his hammer sometimes makes it better, but there is little variation. The thief, even firing fire arrows as rapidly as she can, is too easily overwhelmed by a swarm of enemies. And the wizard is wholly unsuited to taking on foes unless from afar. Whenever the wizard was the only character left I found myself fleeing to the nearest checkpoint to revive his fallen comrades.
A lack of enemy variety also hampers the experience. The story really centers on the widespread plague of the roaming undead and as such most of your enemies are skeletons. Occasionally you will have to fend off a horde of bats and large spiders depending on the environment. The skeletons have better weapons and armor later on but by the end of the adventure you will be begging to fight something with flesh on it. It really is a shame for a game that executes every other aspect of fantasy as well as Trine does to not incorporate the many fabled creatures that inhabit the mythos.
Luckily, that pretty much sums up the negatives for this gem. The game utilizes a level up system that is dependent on how much experience (green orbs) sprinkled throughout the levels you collect. Leveling up increases attack power, health, and energy (used for special abilities) for all three characters. Likewise, hidden all over the place are chests that grant special items that increase abilities among other perks. Trine is at its best whenever you find a solution to a tricky environmental puzzle. The only thing more rewarding than discovering the obvious route is finding a unique solution, of which there are many. For example, a dungeon may require you to reach a far off lever with the only apparent option being to manipulate the seesaw-like platforms using options created by the wizard, then use the knight’s shield to avoid being toasted by a shooting jet of fire. You could do that, or you could use the thief’s grappling hook to swing onto the platform and then generate a block with the wizard to shield from the fire.
This adventure sprawls 16 levels. Each stage takes 10-15 minutes to clear and my first playthrough took just north of five hours. The game warrants at least a second go around thanks to unlockable difficulties and time to find all the secret chests and experience tucked away. It is worth nothing that this is one of the few PSN games that features a (reasonably attainable) platinum trophy. I actually found playing the game with others made it clunky overall, so unless each player knows what they are doing I suggest you play alone. The aforementioned $20 price of admission pits this game toe to toe with Wipeout HD and Burnout Paradise, whether it holds up in terms of value is something you will have to determine for yourself.
I am surprised I made it this far into the review without mentioning how great the graphics are in this game. If you can’t tell from the screenshots, Trine is a beautiful game. The attention to detail is spectacular. The 3D rendering stands alongside the best available on the PlayStation Store. The 2.5D presentation works because everything has an ethereal shine and density to it. The artistic design somehow manages to surpass the technical aspect. Everything animates wonderfully, meaning the only real fault to be found are the few instances of framerate drops that occur when the on-screen action peaks.
The story is reminiscent of the illustrated storybooks you used to read as a kid. There isn’t too much depth, but just enough intrigue to keep the game moving along. Narration is used to convey the story with a comforting British storyteller taking up the reins. The voice acting for the three heroes is hit and miss at times, yet manages to add to the personality of each character. The music and sound design are nothing short of epic. You’ll be mesmerized by just how well the renaissance music fuses with the thwumps and clangs of sailing arrows and slashing swords.
Trine was oft delayed but in the end it was worth the wait. Few games match its visual majesty and the platforming is generally fun. It’s a shame it doesn’t work quite as well as in co-op as it does on your own. The somewhat lacking combat and the pitiful enemy variation also impede Trine’s claims to greatness. Despite this, few games can captivate you with their presentation and at the same time draw forth memories of story time and waiting to drift into a world of fantasy like Trine.