A straw poll of friends (some game journalists) and various reviews would have me believe that the game is superb, bordering on a masterpiece. My experience with the game suggests otherwise. Welcome to a negative appraisal of Frozenbyte’s puzzle-platformer, Trine.
The recipe for Trine pie is simple: throw a large chunk of nineties platforming into a bowl, add a dash of robust physics engine and a sprinkle of Marvel vs Capcom character swapping, cook for a few months, then serve warm and tasty to a hungry gaming audience. Unfortunately for me, the game fails on too many levels to approach nourishment.
Players take control of three quickly interchangeable characters in Trine. First we have Pontius, the slightly silly but determined knight who’s the main combat specialist. Zoya, the thief, has a bow and arrow as well as a grappling hook, enabling her to cross gaps and deal with foes from a distance. Finally we have Amadeus, a curious but nervous man who is capable of magical feats ranging from pulling and pushing objects to creating blocks that act as ballast to solve specific puzzles.
The problem here is simple. The narrative isn’t strong enough to justify these three characters not being one single entity. Certainly, there would have been no issues mapping out all three sets of controls onto a DualShock. During game play segments that require rapid interchange – the last level springs to mind – flicking between characters is instinctive and almost instantaneous. The whole concept is contrived and superfluous.
Throughout the game, players collect XP vials which act as currency for character upgrades and new abilities. One positive aspect of Trine is that I never levelled my characters ’incorrectly,’ causing puzzles to be too difficult to work around. A lot of the puzzles make use of the physics engine to offer more than one solution even if none are apparent at first glance.
Unfortunately, Frozenbyte too often dips into the poisoned chalice which plagued Modern Warfare – infinitely respawning enemies. They attempt to increase tension, but constantly throwing skeletons at the player feels incredibly lazy. To make things worse, combat is an incredibly dull and simplistic affair necessitating a switch to Pontius and a healthy mash of the attack button. I wasn’t expecting Streets of Rage style brawling but if the same care had been applied to combat as the puzzles, Trine would have been a more satisfying experience.
Graphically, the game is adequate. Backgrounds are well-drawn with depth and character but the sprites, while nicely animated, haven’t been given the same attention. This game criminally under uses the PS3 – like driving a Ferrari at 30mph down a motorway (Motorway? Shouldn’t it be KPH? -ED). The screen never looks as beautiful as a PS3 2D platformer should.
The audio, on the other hand, is lovely. Frozenbyte invested in good voice actors, and it shows throughout the game. As they talk, Zoya, Pontius, and Amadeus paint a far better picture of their personalities than the generic-looking sprites ever could. The incidental music is light, refreshing, and perfectly in keeping with the environments the player negotiates.
Trine improves considerably when you introduce friends into the mix. Many game play issues are completely eradicated when three players take control of one character each and solve puzzles together. Players quickly find areas which were unreachable when playing solo. Working as a team adds a further layer to the game. It’s far more satisfying to solve a big problem as part of a threesome than toiling away alone. Had Trine been designed as a multiplayer experience in the first place, it would have a more enjoyable and well-rounded experience.
The result isn’t a terrible game but the tireless cliches, stilted game play, and lack of polish in areas like combat make it a mediocre proposition. In the UK, Trine costs a little over $27 – that’s a lot of cash for a downloadable title, especially considering some great games like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space can be picked up for a song. Trine deserved more time in the oven.