Review by BloodGod65
Fun with Physics
For years it seemed like the platformer was on the verge of extinction. But the genre is experiencing something of a renaissance with the recent boom in the indie scene. While this rebirth is rife with titles hearkening back to the 8 and 16-bit eras, there are plenty that explore the platformer in innovative new ways.
Enter Trine, a side scrolling platformer with a unique spin on the genres time honored conventions. At first, Trine sounds pretty much like every other platformer ever released. You make your way through linear levels, dodging obstacles, evading traps, and occasionally fighting a few enemies. But Trine breaks the mold with its focus on physics. The challenge of the game is not simply making it to the end of a level but figuring out the best way to do so.
Each level is littered with narrow ledges, sudden drops, moving platforms, swinging objects, traps, and all sorts of other obstacles. In the typical platformer these barriers are a simple test of timing and speed as you sprint for the finish line. More often than not, the only test of skill is how well you can negotiate a series of pitfalls and narrow platforms. In Trine, the test comes from manipulating simple physics to achieve your goals.
A further twist comes from the fact that you have three adventurers to choose from. Each of them a wizard, a thief, and a knight has a different set of abilities useful for specific situations. The knight is the most straightforward of the group. He is used for combat and his shield can deflect enemy attacks and fireballs, and his immense strength allows him to pick up large objects.
The thief carries a bow, which she can use to attack distant enemies. She also has a flame arrow attack, which is useful for lighting torches and destroying various obstacles in the environment. The thief also carries a grappling hook that can attach to many surfaces. Once attached, she can rappel up or down or swing back and forth.
The wizard, despite having no dedicated combat abilities, is the most versatile of the three. He can create magical blocks, planks, and floating triangles. He also has the power of levitation, which can be used to grab and reposition objects from a distance, and he also has the best natural jumping ability of the group.
You can switch between characters at the press of a button, which is nice because much of the game requires the abilities of multiple characters chained together to succeed. Its also nice because if one of them dies you can immediately switch to another.
As Ive said, the meat of the game revolves around figuring out how to get through each level. Because of this, Trine often feels as much like a puzzle game as a platformer. Although there are some very tricky areas in the game it is incredibly gratifying to figure out a particularly difficult problem and move on. Even though the game is simple and adheres to basic logic by using fundamental principles weve understood since childhood, it constantly challenges you to come up with ingenious solutions to problems.
Maybe a few examples would help illustrate this. Suppose you encounter a ledge thats either too high or too far to jump (this is a relatively common event in Trine). You may use the Thiefs hook to see if there is somewhere you can grapple up to and then swing over. Or you could use the Wizards block summoning ability to create a tower and then climb up and leap across. Or you might try a more novel approach of creating a seesaw with a plank and a cube before standing on one end and dropping a stone block on the other side to launch yourself through the air.
Theres rarely any one way to get past a single obstacle. The fun comes from experimenting with your tools to see what works and what doesnt. There are also plenty of conventional obstacles in the game that you can avoid just with some clever thinking. For instance, in one level there are some counter-clockwise rotating gears. You can just try jumping forward really fast to avoid being thrown down into the acid below, but fireballs rain down just ahead. You could switch over to the Knight and use his shield to get through unscathed. Or you could just summon a magic plank and wedge it between the gears to stop them and walk through at your leisure.
Then theres the old standby of teeny-tiny ledges your character is supposed to prance across. While the controls in Trine are responsive enough to do it, you could just as easily summon some planks and walk across. The fact that every scenario seemingly has a number of possible solutions not only gives the game great replay value, but it also allows the player to tackle the game with their own play style. Youre rarely forced into any specific way of doing things.
While the physics are generally good, they arent completely realistic. Your characters can fall from any height and not be harmed and their jumping skills make Luigi look like a chump. There are also some quirks in the engine itself, which can cause objects in the environment to behave strangely, like rotating platforms that spin out of control or inconsistent object gravity.
But if theres one real issue in Trine, its combat. Early on, combat is simple, infrequent, and integrated smoothly into the game. You may occasionally face a few skeleton archers that plug away at you as you try to navigate a tricky area or a few sword wielding skeletons may pop out just to test your reflexes. But late in the game these encounters occur more and more often. Towards the end of the game theyre swarming at you in mobs and respawning incessantly. While the Knight can put up a pretty good fight, combat just isnt that interesting.
If you die, be it by enemy or environmental obstacle, you can switch over to another character. If all three of them are wiped out youll respawn at the nearest checkpoint. Checkpoints are generally well placed so you rarely have to backtrack far. Youll also regain health any time you pass a checkpoint.
Though the gameplay is simple, albeit very enjoyable, the developers went all out for the games presentation. Simply put, the game looks and sounds phenomenal. The graphics are especially incredible, considering that this is ostensibly a 2D sidescroller (although it isnt 2D per se; everything is rendered in 3D). The game has a high fantasy art style, with a vibrant color palette and very soft, fuzzy lighting. And the developers have included a stunning amount of detail; in many levels you can see grass and flowers swaying gently in the breeze, or motes of dust drifting down to the ground through shafts of sunlight.
The audio stands out as well. The character voices are a little goofy, but this is a light-hearted fantasy so thats understandable. The music, on the other hand, is simply out of this world. Each level has a unique song and each one is fantastic. Theyre all fantasy inspired pieces but most of them are very relaxing and memorable.
Platformers are always difficult to evaluate because of their inherent similarities. And yet, when its broke its broke and when it works it works. Make no mistake, Trine works. Its an absolute joy to play, and everything from its simple and engrossing premise, to its amazing graphics, and pleasant music work perfectly together. If you enjoy platformers you owe it to yourself to play Trine.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Trine (US, 07/02/09)
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