Thrice as Nice
Given the current marketplace, much of gaming has come down to yearly sequels and variations on a theme. There is not a lot of room for major deviance within that system, much of the time it simply isn’t commercially viable to stray too far from what is traditionally successful. Trine stands out as a well-designed game with a refreshing gameplay mechanic; one that isn’t just a clone of so many other games on the market. While it certainly isn’t the first of its kind – Blizzard did it years ago with Lost Vikings – it does represent something different in today’s gaming sphere. It is wholly its own breed, and shows an amount of love and polish that really elevates it above much of the muck gamers have to sift through to find gems.
You play as three characters: an obese knight, an inept and socially awkward wizard and a thief. Each character has his or her own unique abilities, which are used to solve a myriad of puzzles and combat scenarios. Skills range from a grappling hook to the ability to materialize boxes. These skills allow for several ways to solve any given puzzle. With that much variety in solutions and the slow evolution of those abilities into more powerful versions, you’ll rarely find yourself slogging through levels using the same character to solve everything. While a Wizard-only run is theoretically possible, it would certainly be a chore to use him in instances where the Knight or Thief had abilities that would work so much better.
Each character has a unique moveset with varied controls. The Wizard has no direct attack and operates by summoning objects with mouse gestures. Most enemies can be killed by conjuring above their heads, but detection is sometimes dodgy. There is also the danger of being caught in the middle of an enemy attack while conjuring. Much of the time, the Wizard is simply used to build rickety towers to try and climb over obstacles, as well as bridges to traverse gaps. The Knight is more combat-oriented, obviously. He is the only character with a block move, does a reasonable amount of damage, and can be upgraded to charge right through enemies with shields. On the downside, the Knight moves slower, jumps shorter, and can’t swim. The Thief is primarily about movement. Her grappling hook ability is the most versatile solution to traversing a level and her arrows are the only real ranged attack in the game. Arrows do a considerable amount of damage and are the best way to beat most of the mini-bosses. At times, the arrows actually make her a more versatile combat class than the Knight. The fire arrows either kill or stun, meaning rapidly shooting them when surrounded by enemies gets you hit much less than swinging away with the Knight.
Strewn about each level were experience vials, usually in hard to reach places. Initially I had no real impulse to track them down, but upon leveling up a few times and seeing the evolution of character abilities, I immediately began to replay levels to ferret them out. Hunting vials never felt like a chore, even on the third or fourth run of a level. Some were much harder than others, but none were so hard as to turn me off of the hunt. Additionally, each level had two secret chests, with items that greatly increased performance and were well worth tracking down. These items ranged from health boosts to allowing the Wizard to summon more items. The other chests in the level were in plain sight and these gave the characters their second and third abilities. All of the abilities were in some way useful, the least so being the Knight’s ability to hold objects, but even this becomes a dash that helps against shielded enemies.
I would be remiss if I did not speak about co-op, as this game pulls it off fantastically. Each player gains control of one of the characters and what was a game of juggling the different abilities becomes a game of yelling that your friend is doing it wrong. Unlike most co-op games, where it’s generally about performing well on an individual level, you are forced to work together. You won’t always succeed, but it always feels like a failure in teamwork – never a problem with design. Most importantly, because each player is controlling a specific character, they will always have that moveset in mind. When an obstacle is reached, each player automatically begins to run through how their character could tackle it. This leads to solutions that a person not playing co-op would have been hard pressed to come up with and makes playing through the entire game two or three times more than worth it.
Despite all the good, there were some problems with the game. Frequently, enemies spawn before you really have an ability to tell that they are there. This often leads to damage that should have been avoidable. Hit detection on some enemies (specifically the ones that breathe fire) is less than stellar. Attacks can sometimes hit through floors and other times miss while you are clearly caught in their flame. The grappling hook mechanic is at times frustrating. It is difficult to gain any sort of momentum and controlling where you jump off can be difficult. When you trigger a switch it shows a short cutscene of a door opening, but does not otherwise pause the game. If a door is opened by two switches being pressed and you happen to be on one when an enemy walks on the other, you will be dead by the time the door opens. It is annoying to come back to a corpse when the enemy that killed you would have died to a single hit. The worst offender, though, is the last level.
After fourteen levels of fun, creative puzzles and amazing design the final level is a complete shift in gameplay. Every other level is based on finishing one puzzle at a time, at your own pace. Failure sets you back maybe twenty feet for the most part and trying again is never really anything but fun. Then, in the last level, there is such a dramatic shift in gameplay that you effectively have to relearn the game, not something you should need to do so close to the end. There is little need to switch between the characters either, as the Thief is ideal for the entire level as her skillset is best suited towards fast movement and her fire arrows destroy many of the obstacles. Essentially it takes away everything that made the game fun in the first place in favor of an entirely new system; one which is nowhere near as enjoyable.
After so much tripe recently, it’s good to play such a superbly designed game. Every facet is really well thought out, very polished, and so loved by the designers. If it wasn’t for such an atrocious last level, the game would have been a cavalcade of high points from start to finish. It’s just a shame that they let their excellent design slip on such an important piece of the game. Please don’t let that put you off from picking this game up because what it does right is more than worth the price of admission, particularly if you have the chance to play it cooperatively. Just quit out after level fourteen. Trust me, you’ll thank me.