Ever have a gaming marathon? You know the kind, one of those all-day or all-night marathons that leave you tired and worn out afterwards, but you walk away from it with a grin saying “That was totally worth it.” Your shoulders are aching from being hunched in front of your computer for hours, but you still can’t wipe the silly grin away.
That was my experience with Trine, the new game from Frozenbyte. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a side-scrolling action game where you use three separate characters to achieve your objectives. You have a magician, who can create platforms and crates and move objects. You have a thief, who can shoot arrows and use a grappling hook on wooden objects. Finally, you have a knight who is your brute-force tank, with a sword, shield and hammer. Trine places a heavy emphasis on using the physics of your environment and your different skills to get past obstacles, and while it may be a short ride, it is indeed a sweet one.
First, Trine looks great. It’s in 2.5D, that cool amalgam of traditional side-scrolling gameplay and the finest 3-D technology available. Of special note are the backgrounds, which are detailed without being distracting, and the distorted, foggy view underwater. I was absolutely blown away at every juncture by how organic everything looked. I don’t have a top-of-the-line computer, either. It’s an AMD Athlon 5200+ with 2GB of RAM and a GeForce 9600 card, and even with that, I was able to crank Trine up to 1680×1050 on High detail with 8X Anti-Aliasing on without ever seeing one shudder or slowdown.
The music is also solid, coming with a heavy dose of mystery and intrigue. It’s not pushed front and center so it tends to blend into the background a bit, especially when you’re trying to solve a puzzle. This is actually welcome, as it adds to the atmosphere of the game and doesn’t try and distract you. It really show remarkable restraint.
The voices are a mixed bag. The narrator’s voice is pitch-perfect. He has just the right tone of gravitas and whimsy to make the game sound like a children’s fairy tale in the Brothers Grimm mode. The other characters don’t fare so well, especially the bombastic knight. He sounds like he belongs in an entirely different game, as his voice is far too over-the-top to belong in this game. Even then, you only hear his voice at the beginning of the level, so it’s not too much of an immersion breaker.
Trine controls pretty well using a mouse and keyboard setup. You use the WASD keys to control your character, with W making your character jump, and the mouse to attack and use secondary abilities. I liked the setup, except for a few quirks. First, I would find myself absentmindedly holding down the W key after I had jumped and had to tell myself to let go of it. I don’t know if that’s a leftover from so many shooters and action games or if that’s a design flaw, so your mileage may vary.
Also, the mouse control was a little weird. For instance, my knight would be facing one way, and I’d hit the right mouse button to throw up his shield. He’d throw up his shield in the opposite direction, exposing my back to an angry skeleton. I couldn’t figure out why this was until I realized that where I had the mouse pointer on the screen determined in what direction he blocked. It kind of makes sense and kind of doesn’t, as it just feels a little counterintuitive.
On top of that, I had an issue with the thief’s grappling hook. During one puzzle, you have a short-ish narrow passageway that leads straight up. Somehow, you have to get a player from the bottom up to the top. It’s not a really long passageway, but it’s just enough that you can’t just jump. I piled a couple of boxes up and tried getting out and couldn’t make it. I still couldn’t tell you exactly how I got out, but I messed with it for about 15 minutes until I somehow crawled out. Lo and behold, once I get out, I see that offscreen there was a wooden beam RIGHT ABOVE ME that would have been perfect to grapple with, but I had no way of knowing. It was offscreen, and there was no indicator that it was there. Maybe if I had moved my mouse and it would have frozen for just a split second at the location it would have helped me out, or maybe if there was a first-person view I could have found it and saved myself a ton of grief.
However, those are nitpicky examples, and most of the time Trine handles really well. The thief becomes the star of the game very quickly, as her grappling hook is ridiculously fun to use and her fire arrows are very satisfying to attack with.
As far as the gameplay goes, there really isn’t much to say beyond “mostly brilliant.” I’m not a huge fan of Lost Vikings-style games where there is one UNT ONLY VUN solution to each problem. However, Trine never locks you into one solution and makes you figure it out. You’re free to come up with your own solution to the puzzle within, and the game is better for it. I’m really looking forward to seeing speedrun videos popping up on Youtube since there are so many things you can do and so many solutions that people much smarter than myself will be able to create.
This trickles down to character death. Even if you lose a character in Trine, you’re able to get past most areas with enough ingenuity since your mind is the real weapon. Frozenbyte has also liberally scattered waypoints around the levels where characters get resurrected at no cost. This means that the frustration level is pretty low, and you can try multiple solutions until you make it through, leading to a lot of surprisingly satisfying trial-and-error.
I also have to commend Frozenbyte for not resorting to one of the tropes of puzzle games: The dreaded “This character is locked!” portions. At no point do they put limits on what you can and can’t do by forcing you to play a game of “guess what the developer was thinking.” Those portions only make me frustrated, and Trine never tries to frustrate. It explains your tools, presents you with a series of problems, and gets out of your way. It trusts the player enough to allow them to figure out the way they would like to solve the problems, and in doing so shows a remarkable respect for the gamer.
However, I have one major complaint with the game, and it’s about the ending. I’m going to demarcate it with spoiler warnings.
SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING SPOILER WARNING
There’s a huge buildup during the last level, finally revealing the boss and giving you a very tricky level to navigate that also features rising lava and boxes being dropped on you from overhead. It’s an epic level and extremely tricky. You get to the top, where a treasure chest awaits. You get to the treasure chest and:
Cutscene. Boss flies towards you and the knight hits him with a hammer, killing him. That’s it. That’s the final boss.
With a game this epic, I expect, nay, demand much more of a battle. Here’s what I wanted: A series of battles where I have to use all three characters to my advantage. Maybe I have to drop a box on his head, shoot a flaming arrow into his mouth and then smack him with the hammer. I don’t know. I’m not a designer. I just demand much more than a boss beaten in a cutscene. With the right final boss battle, Trine could have gone from “great and memorable” to “extraordinary and unforgettable.” It was a missed opportunity, plain and simple.
Also, Trine is short. It takes about 6-8 hours to make it all the way through. I do commend them for not artificially padding the game to make it longer, and I suppose it’s a good thing that they left me wanting more. There are also plenty of secrets scattered around the game that will appeal to completists, and several of them you will not be able to get on your first playthrough. Many of these secrets include more experience which can beef up your abilities even more or pieces of armor and jewelry that bestow upon the wearer special buffs and bonuses.