Every time you think about turning your back on the 2D action genre, a game like Trine comes along to remind you why this style of game still matters, and can still surprise you. The satisfaction of playing Trine hinges on a thorough physics model that touches every aspect of the mechanics, from the platforming and puzzle-solving to the combat, both melee and ranged. Every level contains enough inventive and challenging puzzles and platforming obstacles--swaddled in beautiful, lovingly detailed graphics--to propel you straight through to the end of the game, and likely leave you wishing there were even more levels to play through.
Trine has a boilerplate but somehow still endearing fantasy storyline about a wizard, a warrior, and a thief who, through an unfortunate coincidence involving a mysterious artifact, become fused into one person. Their loss is your gain. Thanks to this magical predicament, you can switch between the three characters instantly at the touch of a button. (It's quite a bit like that old pre- Warcraft classic from Blizzard, The Lost Vikings.) Since all three have dramatically different abilities, this feature is absolutely central to Trine's gameplay, which encourages you to switch around and experiment with different approaches to a given problem. There are plenty of places where you'll need to set up a solution with one character, then switch to another character on the fly--maybe even in mid-jump--to see it through.
The thief is the most mobile of the three, with a grappling hook that lets you pull off some snazzy momentum-based aerial flips and tricks when you get a feel for the way she swings. The wizard has no direct combat abilities, but he's your bridge-layer and general obstacle-goer-arounder, since he can summon stackable boxes, levitating platforms, and short bridges. And of course the warrior acts as the brawn, with a sword and shield that you'll use to vanquish the scores of skeletons that have overrun your kingdom, as you search for a way to split the three adventurers back up.
Trine is primarily a methodically paced puzzle game, so it's high praise to say the game's combat is also a lot of fun. The thief is armed with a bow and arrow, and you can vary the tension on the bowstring when you shoot it, letting you pull fancy moves like arcing arrows over obstacles and through narrow openings when you get a feel for it. The warrior has a shield he can hold up to protect himself from any angle, and he can also pick up and throw large objects. What really makes the combat work is the aiming system, which lets you aim the thief's bow and the warrior's shield and thrown objects in an arc around the character with a great degree of precision, using either the mouse or a gamepad's right analog stick. This frees you up to do things like raising your shield over the warrior's head to protect yourself from a rain of debris, or raining a shower of arrows down over a high wall with a carefully aimed bow shot.
Trine would still be great if you were limited to the characters' basic set of abilities, but there's a thin layer of RPG-style character progression on top of the core action that lets you customize the gameplay to a small extent. Mainly, there's a level-up system that lets you upgrade each character's three core abilities with a sort of basic talent tree setup. You only gain experience points from certain enemies; most of it is embodied in little green bottles that are scattered in the hardest-to-reach places in each level, so there's a direct tangible benefit to your characters that results from exploring every nook and cranny. By the same token, you can find loot in treasure chests hidden around each level that buffs a given character's stats and gives them some bonus survival options. You can trade your gear around between characters to get the most benefit, and by the latter half of the game your characters will start to become way more powerful than they were at the beginning.
There's not much I can say about Trine's visuals that you can't see for yourself in videos, but this is seriously a fantastic-looking game. The artists use the fixed camera angle to great effect here, giving the levels a real feeling of depth with expansive backgrounds and extremely close-up foreground objects that make you forget you're only operating in a 2D space. There's also an expert use of color palette, set pieces, and environmental effects in every level that combine to establish a great sense of cohesive atmosphere. The lavish graphics don't come at a great hardware expense, either; even my modestly equipped PC kept the game locked at a fully playable 60 frames per second at high settings.
You can also play Trine with a local drop-in cooperative mode that lets two or three people control all the characters at once. Three players makes the action a little too busy and demanding, and removes the ability to swap between characters entirely, which makes some of the obstacles a pain to get by. Two-player co-op feels like the sweet spot, since either player can still swap to the third character at any time to maintain that puzzle-solving flexibility that makes the single-player so much fun. And two characters can pull off some tricks you can't do in single-player, like the wizard giving the thief a levitated ride across a bottomless pit on a conjured platform. Still, I had the most fun playing solo, when I had complete control over all the characters' abilities and could use them in concert to do things in really creative ways.
It's worth noting that Trine is currently only available on the PC at a $30 price, while a PlayStation Network version is slated for release in the near future for only $20. Since I'd recommend playing the game with a gamepad over the mouse and keyboard anyway, I'd advise those with a PS3 to wait a bit and see how this less expensive option turns out. (An Xbox Live Arcade version is also on the way from Atlus, but that release is said to be several months away.) Whatever platform you play games on, though, Trine's got the gameplay and the looks to make it well worth your time and money.
Want to form your own opinion before you buy? A playable demo of Trine on the PC is available for download.