7 Jul 2009


I feel that there's a common attitude held amongst veteran gamers these days that stems from a nostalgic perception of what we were playing ten or twenty years ago. I'll admit I'm guilty of it myself at times. Many of us at one time or another are prone to saying that modern games appear dumbed down, unimaginative, too focused on aesthetics or just plain dull compared to what we may have experienced back in the day. Of course, this sort of uncompromising generalisation can ring true as much it can seem complete codswallop, but nevertheless we're guilty of saying it from time to time.

What I'm leading up to in a rather convoluted fashion is that whilst playing Frozenbyte's recently released co-op platformer, Trine, I had a revelation of sorts. Something about the childlike nature of the game was appealing in such a way that it occurred to me that it's something I wish I'd been able to play when I was younger, being the sort of game with enough creative energy and style to draw you in and really stick in your head for a good while. So much so that I can imagine people in years to come might say: 'Hey, do you remember that game with the wizard and you could move stuff around to solve puzzles? And you could switch characters? Games just don't do things like that anymore...'

So, I'd like to preface this piece with a little advice to those as cynical as me: Remember that computer games exist for our enjoyment and that time can cloud judgements. Games like Trine are here to remind us of that.

Right. Now that the fluffy, over-sensitive babble is out of the way I'll get on with the review proper.

I'll go ahead and predict that one thing which will crop up in many reviews of this game is the word 'charming'. This is because Trine is charming to the core. From the introductory video through to the character design and the vivid variety of the visuals, playing through the game is like being read a fairytale before bedtime. What with the three noble heroes, the classical fantasy setting and a nasty skeleton horde to dismantle as you please, you may as well be rescuing a princess from a tower. Except you're not.

The plot, in fact, revolves around the discovery of a magical artifact called the Trine by three very different people. The Thief - all sarcasm and slyness - is the first to happen across the object, after which comes the womanising Wizard and finally the burly, oafish Knight. As their hands each touch the stone we discover that they've been bound together in one body with the ability to switch forms on the fly. Hence, we have our first major gameplay device.

All of the above is swiftly and seamlessly delivered by way of three short tutorials in which you control each character as they approach the ancient stone. From then on you're let loose on a quest to dispel the evil of the land and find a way to release your souls from the stone.

Before I go on, I need to point out that my first experience with the game was less than magical. Setting up the control system for two player co-op took a good half hour, mainly due to the insane default configuration of the gamepad controls. Admittedly, I don't have a 360 controller which I imagine most games are geared towards these days, but when a handful of essential button-presses are bound to several directions on the right thumbstick it's easy to become more than a little peeved by the trial and error approach required for controller configuration. However, compared to these initial issues, once you're actually playing it controls like a dream.

The actions are responsive, the controls intuitive and the visual feedback that you get from jumping and moving around is spot on, meaning that you rarely get caught out by tricky maneuvers. All of this is paramount for a game that is built around such kinetic use of simulated physics.

Throughout the levels - besides the evil skeletons you'll want to be killing - are spread many blocked paths and seemingly impassable areas. The beauty of the game is the way in which you work around them using the powers available to your trio. The Wizard can move objects around in the world and construct boxes and the Thief's ability to grapple and swing from anything wooden makes her indisposable for certain tasks. The Knight, well, he's just a brute. Switching between characters to suit your needs at the press of a button is an excellent system and one of Trine's main selling points.

The puzzles in the game are certainly not mind-bending conundrums. The focus here is on using teamwork and inventiveness to bypass problems in the best possible way. The lack of chin-scratching is definitely a good thing though, allowing the players to be experimental and construct solutions on the fly without losing the excellent pacing of the game.

Taking all of the above into account as well as the ability to play through the game with company means that Trine is guaranteed to make you laugh a lot, most likely through your own ineptitude or that of your partner's. At some point you'll think you've concocted the perfect solution to a puzzle only to end up flying off the screen or dropping serenely into a vat of lava. Well placed checkpoints that revive your party ensure that these sorts of events never frustrate.

On top of the standard platforming you'll also be presented with a simple leveling system that allows you to advance by collecting experience points from downed enemies or finding potions scattered about the levels. It makes for a compelling reward system and if you keep your eyes open you'll also discover many chests dotted about that contain magical trinkets or armaments to enhance any character's performance.

Depite my love for Trine, I have to admit to one minor failing of the game. I played it through with my girlfriend and it took us around nine hours to complete. The first eight and a half were fantastic. It's fair to say we were completely captivated by the style, beauty and endless dicking about that it allowed us. The last half hour of play, however, stunk. After adventuring through such varied locations and making the most of the exploration that the game encourages we were confronted by the ultimate platormer horror: A RISING LAVA LEVEL.

We were horrified. Two days of gorgeousness for this? It was as if the game had collapsed under it's own brilliance, hurling everything it had at us from above whilst perpetrating one of the worst genre-cliches in the business. It was like a physics-vomit within the depths of hell and even after the satisfaction of finally succeeding and completing the game, we were left with a bitter taste in our mouths and angry beyond belief. For those who fancy a challenge then you may find it to be a cakewalk, but for us it was a disappointing departure from everything that had come before.

That said, soon after the infuriating finale, we did the best thing we could to cleanse those unhappy feelings, and started the game again. Bliss.

With Trine, Frozenbyte have come up with their own unique selling point. Three characters, three sets of abilities and three ways to solve problems. Despite the wealth of alt-platform games we've received in the last couple of years, Trine still manages to be a breath of fresh air. It may not have the ego or ambition of the competition but, as it is, Trine remains a consistently fun and beautifully compelling game. Playing it alone is enjoyable enough, but cooperatively the possibility of inadvertant comedy and a multitude of puzzle solutions just makes it so much better.

I may have knocked the game for the woefully generic final level and the control issues I encountered, but there's no denying that this is a game to be played and enjoyed in the purest sense. No mind-bending situations to puzzle over, no grinding for points or pixel-perfect jumps. It's just great platform gaming with a few neat tricks thrown in for good measure. So, take my advice - parents play it with your kids, girlfriends play it with your boyfriends and friends play it with your other friends. If this happens then I'm pretty sure we'll all look back at some point in the future with very fond memories of Trine.

VERDICT: Compellingly versatile, Trine is a platforming gem.

EDIT: Frozenbyte have contacted me since this review was posted to say that they're planning on releasing a patch for Trine very soon that will lessen the difficulty of the final level as well as allowing the difficulty setting to be changed easily on dying. This should go some way to relieving any frustrations.

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