Despite spending a large chunk of my youth playing platform games on the NES, I’m not a great fan of the jump and run genre. When I first heard about Trine, I initially dismissed it as something I wouldn’t enjoy – until I saw some screenshots. Make no mistake; visually, Trine is an absolutely stunning game. The graphics bring the fairytale world of our childhood imagination to life in intricate, glorious detail. From the beautiful woodland forest filled with glowing toadstools and babbling brooks, (not to mention hordes of undead) to creepy catacombs and dark dungeon passageways, full of burnt out torches that must be reignited with the thief’s fire bow in order to light the way, Trine really is spectacular.
Graphically spectacular, that is. The gameplay itself is fun, but a little shallow. There are three characters to choose from: a magician, unable to cast any directly offensive spells but a master at creating and moving objects with the power of his mind; a thief, armed with a bow and grappling hook to swing over those annoying spike-filled gaps and a knight, skilled in melee combat – handy against those annoying skeletons, spiders and swarms of bats. In single player mode you are able to swap control between these three characters on the fly at any time which makes for some pretty slick, non-stop platforming action. You’ll need the skills of all three characters in order to progress although there are usually multiple ways to solve the problems in Trine. You’ll sometimes be in the process of building an intricate tower of conjured boxes and planks, when you realise the thief could simply fly across the gap with her grappling hook. Or struggling to jump across a moving platform with the knight, when you realise the magician could wedge a box under it to stop it from collapsing under your weight. Or trying to fire the thief’s arrows at the right angle to hit a skeleton across the screen, when you realise the magician could just conjure a box above its head and crush it. Although the ability to switch seamlessly between the characters is fun and the game flows smoothly, it does feel like a bit of a cheat at times – it’s all just a bit unsatisfyingly easy. A bit like the combat; a bit button mashy but somehow still engaging enough to keep your interest.
The physics of the game can make the puzzles difficult to solve at times. The magician’s telekinesis power is my main gripe in this respect. It can be a bit unwieldy and unintuitive, which can cause frustration since using the ability drains his energy. Running out of energy because you couldn’t rotate a plank to just the right angle, or get a platform to stop moving in just the right place to jump on to is incredibly irritating; there’s no reason why energy shouldn’t refresh slowly over time rather than having to run back or reset to the previous checkpoint. This is exceptionally annoying if you’ve already made it past an irritating puzzle.
As you traverse the levels, your heroes can gather up little green bottles of experience which will allow them to level each time 50 bottles are collected. You’ll also happen upon chests which can contain either a new skill or an item for one of the heroes. When the characters gain a level, this allows you to put some points into their skills making them stronger. The system is pretty rudimentary and apart from the magician, whose leveled abilities allow him to conjure multiple items at the same time, the levels feel like a bit of a tacked on afterthought rather than something that is really required in order to complete the game. A shame, then, that pretty much all of the Steam achievements revolve around gathering experience. This isn’t a big deal, but it’s definitely an area which could have been implemented to better effect.
Another poorly implemented feature is the multiplayer. Not the multiplayer gameplay itself, but the thoroughly foolish decision of Frozenbyte to limit the option to local coop, not allowing for internet multiplayer. Worse still, this requires either a multiple keyboard and mouse setup, or the addition of a gamepad for the second and third players. Then, the option is hidden within the controller configuration menu, making it prohibitively difficult to even set up multiplayer. I imagine most people would never even know that the option exists without searching for the answer online. Then you need to get past some of the inherent annoyances of multiplayer mode, such as player 1′s ability to switch to another character at any time, even if player 2 or 3 is already playing it. This then bumps the other player to a different character automatically which as you can imagine, can be incredibly frustrating. It also removes what should be the more challenging element of multiplayer mode since you are able to get past obstacles by repeating the action three times with the same hero for each player – player 1 on the thief grapples across a gap, then player 2 switches to the thief and does the same thing, and then player 3. Not exactly how one would expect to be able to solve the problem and a bit unsatisfying that it’s possible.
I feel like the overall score is a bit on the low side but it’s mainly because of the very high retail price which Frozenbyte asked for such a short game. Trine can be completed in around about 5 or 6 hours, and whilst those among us who are not particularly good at platformers might get a couple more hours out of it, for the $29.99 price tag it’s a dismally short game. Couple this with the fact that once you’ve figured out the puzzles once, there’s not much challenge left in a replay unless you can find some friends to play along with you in multiplayer. If you can get the multiplayer working, that is. I’d be feeling pretty short changed if I’d paid full price for Trine, however if you can pick it up for less than the RRP, I’d recommend it as you’re in for a visual treat.