When I saw the two gameplay trailers from Trine, I was intrigued by the possibility of alternatively controlling again three characters, each with their own abilities (The Lost Vikings fans will already know what I’m talking about). The final version of the game coated this concept in a relaxing fantasy atmosphere, offering some ideas which give the impression that you’re playing something fresh and original.
Trine’s potential is hinted at especially in its second half, when the abilities of the three main characters are more diverse, leading to situations that unfortunately aren’t fully exploited by the structure of the puzzles, which remains simplistic until the very end.
The story isn’t great, but mediocre. And I’m not talking about the presentation which hints at the modest budget allotted for the game’s production. A good narrative voice-over and suggestive images, even if static, never disappoint. However, I didn’t like the motivation it instills in me, the player: the destinies of three characters – a mage, a thief and a knight – are bound through an artifact called Trine, in order to save a kingdom from the clutches of evil.
Moreover, the characters are standard fantasy fare: the mage is a bit naïve and completely dedicated to good deeds, the thief is an opportunist who cares for nothing but large quantities of gold, while the knight has the voice of a dwarf and an impulsive attitude which borders stupidity. Here I have to point out that the character’s personality is only reflected in the dialogues and the narration of the story, so it’s kind of hard to form any sort of bond or actually care for their fate.
Each character develops its three abilities through the experience points that are found in green bottle scattered through the levels, sometimes difficult to discover and even more hard to reach. With the help of the mouse, the wizard can create boxes, planks and a floating triangle with which he can reach certain places, destroy traps or annihilate enemies. The thief uses her grappling hook, can fire up to three arrows at once or a flaming arrow with which to light up torches or destroy wooden walls. And as you would expect, the knight is excellent when it comes to sword fighting, can use his shield to block attacks and can push large objects.
Built on the recipe “from simple to complex”, the puzzles can be solved in multiple ways and these require the use of the abilities of at least two of the characters. Paying tribute to the fact that the simplest solution is also the most efficient, time and effort-wise, the human brain can ignore ingenuity, which would lead to more thinking effort, but with the advantage of a faster solution. And Trine excels in this regards: it forces you to think a bit differently, especially if you want to obtain the experience potions and items hidden in secret areas.
But, as you approach the finale, the complexity of the puzzles doesn’t keep up with the ingenuity potential that results from the use of the character’s abilities (you never need four planks, for instance). Therefore, Trine becomes more of an arcade, which culminates with the final level, where all you need are good reflexes. I can understand that the producers wanted something more challenging as the grand finale, but this could have been made by insisting on the quality of the puzzles as well.
Moreover, the character abilities aren’t well balanced. And after a while you’ll realize that you can play just with the thief and the mage, whether it’s combat or puzzles. Everything the knight does can be done better by the other two. And if they dies, you can bring the last survivor to the next checkpoint, or you can simply load the latest save.
In both situations you’ll again have a full party at your disposal. On top of that, the experience you gathered after the last checkpoint is kept, so you don’t need to go back and redo some of the puzzles. And the same goes for the bosses too. You’ve fought a boss and everyone died? Not a problem, just reload the last checkpoint, which is usually pretty close, and start over – the life of the big bad wolf won’t reset.
If you have the patience to discover all the secret areas in each level and obtain the artifacts, the game becomes easier. The producers even encourage this by allowing you to return to previous levels to try and get to the secret or hard-to-reach areas using your improved skills. And the items you find are then available as you continue your adventure from the latest save.
On the other hand, increasing the difficulty level doesn’t influence the complexity of the puzzles, just the damage you receive from enemies and traps and the amount of life you get when starting over from a checkpoint.
Concerning the secret areas, it would have been nice to know at any moment how many more there are to discover, not only after I’ve finished a level. There also no option to directly restart a level, which is necessary if you want to unlock certain achievements – at which point you have to go through the main menu. A level editor would have also gone a long way in increasing the game’s longevity, but certain files from the install folder indicate that the latter might eventually be released, maybe through a consistent patch.
There are also certain compatibility issues with some controllers when it comes to the co-op mode, but these will be addressed in the first update. Also, you can’t play co-op online or in LAN, and its simple presence is hidden in the main menu (Options – Controller configuration… ) as if the producers didn’t even want us to know it’s there.
And although the voices and music aren’t bad, while the graphics and the background animations are details, when you sum it all up, Trine’s offer is pretty slim for its 30 euro price tag on Steam. It would have been a true gem if it had more complex puzzles, extended multiplayer options and a replay value backed up by more than some achievements. But my guess is that there’s an add-on in the works, or a full-blown sequel. The potential is certainly there.