Thursday, November 1, 2012 09:00 PM

'Trine' offers inexpensive co-op fun

in Video Gaming | Game Reviews by MegaBearsFan
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This review was originally published 09/14/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct). It has been republished here for archival purposes - and in anticipation of a Trine 2 review.

Trine

A fun and graphically very pretty puzzle-platformer, but physics and controls could have used a little more work.

In a Nutshell

  • Graphics: 84
    A beautiful game to look at, but sometimes the game’s visuals can be very distracting, and camera movement and positioning is a bit of a problem.
  • Gameplay: 89
    For a $20 downloadable game, the three-player multiplayer is an absolute blast -- well worth the price tag! But as a single-player game, it’s just not nearly as compelling.
  • Production: 65
    The simple story told by between-level narration is perfectly adequate, but its nothing particularly impressive.
  • Sound: 69
    The soundtrack is a bit repetive, but overall pretty good. Sound effects and the occasional dialogue are about what you’d expect from a downloadable game.
  • Value: 72
    There’s enough of a game here to keep you and two friends busy for a few game sessions, and some recently-released DLC may add extra hours of play.
  • Overall Score: 76
Trine cover

Developer: Frozenbyte
Publisher: Nobilis
Platforms: PS3, PC
ESRB rating: E10+
Genre: Platform/Puzzle
Players: 1-3
Official site: trine-thegame.com

If you look at the review score above, and think "Hmm, this game can’t be that good to be given a 76," you should be aware that the score takes into account that this game was reviewed as if it were a full-priced $40 to $60 title. But, don’t be discouraged, Trine (regardless of price point) is still good. The friends who have played co-op with me virtually unanimously agree that the game’s fun factor make it worthwhile even at a $40+ price point, regardless of its rating. That being said, let’s talk about the actual game.

Table of Contents:

Trine, as in "harmony"

For starters, the game is a physics-based puzzle platformer for one to three players set in a fantasy world. You play as a Thief, Knight, and Wizard, all of which have a unique personality and play mechanics. The game begins with a tutorial level that is single-player only, and which explains the basic mechanics for each character as they join up with each other. From level 2 onward, however, a second and third player can join in by pressing the Start button on their controllers (for PS3), and can drop out by pausing the game at any time. If playing single player, you are able to switch between each character with the shoulder buttons.

The Thief

Trine - thief art work

The Thief character is equipped with a grappling hook and bow. The grappling hook allows her to swing across pits and access hard-to-reach areas, but only if there is a wooden surface above her for the grappling hook to latch into. No wood means no grappling hook. She can also aim and charge her bow by pressing the right analog stick in the direction she wants to fire, and eventually can learn a fire arrow ability that can be used to attack enemies or light torches in dark areas.

Trine - thief grappling hook Trine - thief triple arrow
[LEFT] The thief's grappling hook can be used to cross most chasms and solve many puzzles.
[RIGHT] She has a bow and arrows for ranged combat, but has trouble surviving close encounters. She can be leveled up to use fire arrows and increase the number of arrows she fires simultaneously.

Her character seems to be the most popular since her grappling hook is a little overpowered, and she is competent in both platforming and combat. Perhaps if they had required the grappling hook and/or bow and arrow to consume energy, the Thief might have felt a little more limited and balanced.

The Wizard

Trine - wizard magic box
The wizard can manifest boxes and bridges.

The Wizard character is a lazy wizard who spends too much time chasing after women and not enough time learning magic. As such, the only useful spells he knows are Levitate and Materialize a box. Later on, he learns the ability to Materialize bridges as well. He has no direct offensive abilities (since he neglected learning Fireball), but boxes and other objects can be levitated and dropped on most enemies to kill them. You move a cursor with the right stick and use the shoulder buttons to Levitate objects highlighted by the cursor. You can also draw a square in the air to make boxes of varying sizes or (later on) a straight line to draw a bridge. It’s a simple, yet satisfying mechanic. You can also rotate levitated objects by tilting the PS3 Sixaxis controller, which, due to the flimsy nature of the PS3’s motion-sensor, makes keeping objects level very difficult, especially if you're moving the object at the same time.

The Wizard is quite probably the single, hardest character in the game to play as, but with a skilled, dexterous, and creative player controlling him, he can be the most useful character in the group, and his ability to manifest platforms makes him essential to reaching hard-to-reach areas of the levels.

The Knight

The Knight character is a less-than-intelligent brute equipped with a sword and shield. The square button swings his sword and the right stick can be used to directionally aim his shield, which he can use to defend himself and his allies from attack or environmental damage. He also eventually gains the ability to pick up and throw large objects (very fun applications for this ability, by the way), and perform a charging kick that is an instant kill for many enemies and useful for dispatching those that carry their own shields.

Trine - knight's sword Trine - knight's shield
The knight is equipped with a sword and shield and is almost exclusively used for combat and shielding comrades from hazards.

He tended to be the least popular character due to his uninteresting and singular focus on combat, and he usually just gets in the way during the platforming and puzzle segments. However, he became much more fun when we started utilizing him to "throw" the other characters over gaps and obstacles.

Gameplay exploits for the fleet-footed

The basic premise is that the King of some great country has died, leaving no heir, and a power struggle ensued, setting off some magical power that caused the dead to rise, form an army, and begin to march on the kingdom. Your three characters start out in a place called the Astral Academy, where they find a magical artifact called the Trine that binds their souls together and shows them how to defeat the undead army. You must then navigate through a series of levels full of environmental obstacles and occasional groups of undead soldiers.

Levels contain pit and spike traps, fireball-shooting canons, swinging platforms, underwater dungeons, and so on, and all the levels are colorfully rendered in very attractive high-definition graphics that demonstrate very high production values. Your characters must use their various abilities (some of which require energy that is not rechargeable) to navigate the environment, defeat enemies, and reach the exit to the next level. The game is also very long for a downloadable title, easily containing several hours worth of straight gameplay even for a group of players who knows exactly where to go and what to do.

Magic Energy vials are also scattered throughout the levels that will refill your magic energy and Green Experience vials that can be used to level up your characters’ abilities in a very simple but adequate character leveling system. There are also chests that can contain useful items that each character may equip. Collecting all the Green Experience vials in any given level will also net you a PSN Trophy, and there are other PSN trophies for completing various other game tasks, but NOT for simply completing a level. They make you work for your Trophies.

Trine - inventory and abilities
Each character has three abilities which can be leveled up by collecting green experience vials. There are also treasure chests that contain accessories to buff your abilities.

As a single player game, it is less than satisfying, as you constantly have to switch from character to character, and many situations are made too simple by the fact that the Thief character is usually able to get around most obstacles with her grappling hook. And you only have to worry about getting your one character past any given obstacle.

In multiplayer, however, the game is much more fun, as you have the added challenge of having to find a way to get all three of your characters past most obstacles. Although sometimes it can be too easy to just kill a character or two and then run to the next checkpoint to resurect them, and only one character needs to reach the end of the level to progress. So if a checkpoint or the end of a level is on the other end of a pit trap, you only need to get one character across and the others can be killed or left behind, which takes away some of the challenge.

Also, if two characters proceed with the level and leave the third character behind, that third character will usually just "teleport" to catch up to the other players. But for the most part, cooperation is essential in multiplayer, and having three people opens much more avenues for creative problem-solving than the single player game, thus, adding to the fun. The levels themselves are typically simple enough, but trying to find and acquire all the experience in a level can be a bit tricky.

It shows why it’s a bargain title at times

Solving puzzles can sometimes be a bit more difficult than it needs to be thanks to some problems with the game’s physics. Objects sometimes bounce or fall in akward ways or objects don’t necessarily interact with each other in the way you’d expect. Having to try to hold the PS3 Sixaxis controller perfectly level with the ground when trying to prevent a Levitating platform from rotating is much more difficult than it needs to be, and if a character is standing on the platform, he or she has to stand in its center of gravity. Some of the difficulty with the wizard character would have been at least somewhat mitigated if the game had options for adjusting the Sixaxis sensitivity. But I guess that is the difference between a $15 Indie game and a $60 mega-publisher’s titles.

The game’s very vibrant and colorful graphics also sometimes make if very difficult to tell what objects are directly interactible and which ones aren’t, as well as frequently making it hard to see exactly what is going on. A Smash Bros-style camera that never seems to be positioned where you want it doesn’t help matters. Often, the camera will refuse to zoom out to a position for you to see something that you want to see, and this is especially troublesome if you have three players and everyone is far apart from one another. There are no camera movement controls, so if you can't tell if there's something interesting going on at the edge of the screen, you have to go there in order to find out.

Trine - co-op gameplay
Creative problem-solving is what makes this game fun.

The Wizard’s magic can also be very difficult to use if the other players are jumping around, as drawing the shapes necessary to create objects and keep levitating things level becomes unnecessarily hard. The Undead enemies also have a habit of respawning right behind you, and you may not notice them until they attack you and a quarter of your HP is lost. Visibility ended up being a big problem for the group I was playing with, and one of my friends found the game to be completely unplayable because his vision was not so good (even with glasses) and he described the game’s graphics as being "Busy." So much so, that he had no idea where his character was, where he was supposed to be going, or what he was supposed to be doing. But then again, he just likes to complain about console games in general, and if he had played it on PC, he’d probably be perfectly fine with it.

Summary

Overall, Trine is a very entertaining game that I would highly recommend (especially at its price point) assuming you have one or two other people who will play it with you. You’ll be treated to a long and intellectually challenging game that is beautiful to look at and has a very nice (although repetitive) soundtrack and simple game mechanics that give you a great deal of freedom in dealing with the obstacles the game throws at you.

Update November 1, 2012: Path to New Dawn DLC adds falling floors and much frustration

There is a DLC pack available for Trine titled Path of New Dawn. The expansion adds a new level called the "Tower of Sarek" (Star Trek reference, maybe?).

Trine - Path to New Dawn DLC
The Path to New Dawn DLC adds a new level reminiscent of one of the later stages of Super Contra.

I didn't really care for the expansion level. It amps the challenge up considerably by forcing the players to constantly ascend the "tower" or else die. Touch the bottom of the screen, and it's "game over". This level reminds me a lot of one of the later levels from the NES classic Super C (a.k.a. Super Contra). The camera is constantly panning up, and any player that doesn't keep up gets instantly killed. In addition, the floors of this level will fall out from under your feet as you ascend, and falling platforms will be waiting to drop you to your death.

In addition to the threat of falling to your death, fiery boulders fall from the sky, and enemy skeletons will be waiting on many platforms to cut you to pieces.

This pressure to constantly move forward prevents the players from being able to sit and carefully plan out how they want to progress, forcing everyone to be very good at quickly coming up with ad hoc solutions, or resorting to trial-and-error. Since the main game never required the players to develop this skill, it feels a little cheap. If I remember correctly, there also might not have been any checkpoints in the level either, forcing the player(s) to redo the same ascent over and over and over again.

The DLC also seems to be catered more towards single-player, since the constantly-moving camera makes keeping track of all three players even more difficult, and the falling platforms can sometimes strand a player after one or two of the others have progressed. The thief once again has a huge advantage in this expansion, and she will very likely be the only survivor to reach the top.

If you enjoyed the main game (and you should have), then the DLC is probably worth trying out, but it might prove to be too frustrating to be fun. If the cost is a concern, then you can probably skip Path to New Dawn.

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