Review by 47pik
A thief. A knight. A wizard. Three very typical protagonists star in Trine, a side scrolling puzzle platformer from developer Frozenbyte. The setup is simple; as the kingdom is overrun with undead due to a curse, the three heroes accidentally have their souls bound together by a magical artifact known as the Trine. So begins the quest to reverse the effect of the Trine, and to save the kingdom from it's curse. The plot is simple and charming, utilizing a storybook visual motif, and narrated by a storyteller as the heroes cross the kingdom. But beneath the presentation lies very solid gameplay.
The main gameplay mechanic is one which is quite old, making a modern appearance - character swapping. Seen frequently in 2D platformers in the 90s, Trine brings it back in the indie resurgence of the genre. At any time, the player may swap between the three heroes, each who have their own abilities which are required to traverse the fifteen levels of the game. This in itself is nothing new, however its application in solving physics based puzzles is. Trine is very much focused on these type of challenges - each level is more a series of puzzles than a gauntlet of obstacles. There are plenty of ways to overcome any of these challenges, by using different characters and their different abilities, or by combining them together. For instance, in order to cross a gap, you could build a bridge out of blocks and blanks with the wizard or swing across using the thief's grappling hook. Of course, nothing is that simple, and more often than not the player must deal with environmental hazards and enemies in addition to more complex puzzles.
That said, unlike other well known 2D puzzle platformers like Braid, the puzzles are never very difficult to actually figure out, and the challenge comes from the execution itself, although that isn't ever terribly difficult either. The end result is a game that flows with some very smooth pacing, containing few if any moments that bring the player to a complete halt. Trine is much more about on the fly problem solving than it is about reasoning out puzzles, and as such, has a lot more wide appeal than it's peers, as it conveys constant satisfaction and progress.
This puzzle solving, however, is mostly the domain of the thief and wizard; although the knight occasionally plays a role, this is a rarity, and thus he feels like a bit of the odd man out, his role relegated to mere combat, which is the weak point of the game. It's button mashy and lacking in strategy or satisfaction. Most unfortunate is the respawning enemies which just keep coming until they eventually stop, although it feels almost arbitrary when they do. Combat is unfortunately all too common and brings the game grinding to a halt, and is especially bad if your knight dies. The thief can hold her own later in the game, but the wizard has no offensive magic, his only option is to drop summoned objects on the heads of enemies, a time consuming process which is simply not feasible given the number that approach from all sides.
Despite the threat of combat however, levels are a joy to explore. Levels are lengthy, and though there are rarely branching pathways, the main pathway is often rather large, with lots of nooks and crannies that contain experience points or secret treasure. Both are used to enhance the three characters; treasure can be equipped for bonuses such as damage reduction or increased energy, while leveling up allows for ability upgrades, such as a flaming sword for the warrior, or the ability to summon more objects as the wizard. These rewards encourage exploration, and it's in this exploration that a lot of the game's fun, and challenge, is to be had, as they often involve using the environment in more complex ways than the simple movement forward.
The visuals also make level exploration a treat. Although Trine is played on a 2D plane, levels are rendered in 3D a la New Super Mario Bros. or any number of other "2.5D" platformers. Trine however stands apart due to how detailed it's environments are, they are lush and colourful, with nice textures, and plenty of objects in both the foreground and the background. Each level has it's own style as well, which slowly transitions to the style of the next level as you proceed, furthering the strong sense of progress experienced by the player.
Given how enjoyable the game's levels are, it's a shame that by about halfway through, you've seen all there is to see in Trine. Very little in the way of new ideas exist past the halfway mark, instead levels just offer slightly more complex and challenging variations on things you have already done. This is not to say the game ever becomes boring, but it feels as though it stops a bit short of it's potential.
Still, despite a few issues, Trine is a strong title, one which combines solid and enjoyable gameplay with even better level design. All this, along with a healthy dose of charm and personality, makes Trine stands out among other 2D platformers on the market, combining old school character swapping gameplay, with the physics based puzzling of modern platformers.
7.0 - Solid
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 07/14/11
Game Release: Trine (US, 07/02/09)
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