Friday, October 30, 2009

Trine Review

Trine, developed by Frozenbyte and published by Nobilis Publishing.
The Good: Three varied characters to control, straightforward controls, fantastic visuals, cooperative play
The Not So Good: Typically linear solutions, checkpoint-only saving, no level editor, no online features
What say you? A fanciful and unique physics-based puzzle game: 6/8

Do you like physics? Do you like puzzles? Do you like jumping over chasms adorned with spikes? Do you like cheese? Well, have I got the game for you: the developer of indie action title Shadowgrounds is tackling a much different genre this time around with a physics-based puzzle game. Now see why I asked all those questions? It all makes sense! Well, except for the cheese thing. Anyway, Trine has been getting some press for being a bit on the expensive side for a puzzle game. Is the price justified to rock your body?

Trine looks and sounds fantastic. Every aspect of the graphics is high quality, from the character models and animations to the special effects and level designs. Each of the game's characters and enemies have well detailed models and move fluidly through the landscape, though some of the animations (especially those dealing with death) tend to get a bit repetitive. The special powers and light effects have a nice glow to them that fits the fantasy world setting that is fantastically detailed. The puzzle elements could have been more plausibly integrated into the environment, but the theme remains strong. Even though the game plays on a 2-D plane, the use of 3-D graphics creates a distinctive look. The sound design is wonderful as well, with great narration and dialogue from the characters, as well as fittingly beautiful background music that imitates the tone of the game. The presentation of Trine is first rate.

Trine tells the tale of three characters brought together as one, chasing a magical something-or-other through a world with a disturbing amount of jumping puzzles. The game world is entirely in 2-D, featuring an assortment of physics-based puzzles and platform jumping sequences. Given this, it is surprising that Trine does not ship with a level editor so that you can create custom puzzles, a fairly standard feature for the genre. Trine's length is acceptable, although replay value is low since most of the levels require a specific strategy as the level design does not lend itself to experimentation well. The game's difficulty levels adjust the amount of damage your characters suffer, although it does not change the actual layouts at all, so the jumping sequences require the same precision no matter what. Trine has the annoying console “feature” of allowing checkpoint-only saves, which are infrequent enough to induce too much level repetition for my tastes. Trine technically has multiplayer, although it's a buried feature available if you have gamepads plugged into the computer and the option activated several menus deep. The lack of online elements is disappointing, but the game doesn't make adjustments for having multiple characters in the same level, so Trine is actually more difficult when you play nice with others. Thus, the lack of online play is not missed too much as it would be essentially impossible to coordinate with others; it's hard enough with someone sitting next to you.

There are three characters you can freely switch between during your time in Trine, assuming you haven't been totally incompetent and gotten them killed. The knight is your combat specialist, equipped with melee weapons and a shield to dispose of those nasty skeletons and whatever else magically spawns on either side of you. The thief is the ranged fighter armed with a grappling hook for accessing tricky, sneaky areas (or totally bypassing enemies altogether). Finally, the wizard is there to summon objects like blocks and platforms or levitate and move objects: a neat way of manipulating the environment. Each character has separate health and energy, so you will have to be aware of how close your tribe is to certain death. Between levels, you can gain upgrades for each of the characters (three skills with two upgrade levels per character), in addition to additional weapons and items. It's nice to have a little choice in who gets the upgrades and items, but the selection of abilities is far enough below a typical RPG to say that Trine has role-playing elements.

While the levels take full advantage of the robust physics engine, Trine does not offer enough solution variety for my taste. It's clear the developers have one way to do most, if not all, of the problems you will encounter. Now, the use of three characters with distinct abilities means the solutions are at least somewhat varied, with a combination of grappling hook, object movement, and combat elements. Still, it's a two-step process of figure out how the developers wanted you to solve the next room and then doing it, which can be trying with some of the more advanced platform sequences. I'm never a huge fan of jumping and timing puzzles, and Trine comes with enough of them to make the game frustrating on several occasions. The game is never really unfair, though, with a proper amount of death traps and enemies to content with. Trine overall does offer more variety that an average puzzle game thanks to the three characters and adept use of the grappling hook affords you some inventiveness, but since you can't use it everywhere, you are still mostly limited to what the developers have in mind.

Trine takes the physics-based puzzle game and injects enough innovation to make it stand out. The use of three character skill sets, though a bit gimmicky, separates the game strategy nicely and makes Trine more accessible to a casual audience. All three are important aspects to the game and the level design support using them in equal amounts. The game is pretty linear, though, as it eventually becomes quite obvious whom to use when and there isn't much leeway, other than skipping past entire sections of a level with daft use of the grappling hook. The game requires dexterity and timing to navigate past the healthy amount of jumping puzzles. This makes cooperative play less appealing since getting two or three separate characters past a tricky sequence can be, well, tricky. The game appears to have been designed for one morphing character rather than three, and the lack on online features further reduces the value of multiplayer in the game. The game is long enough; the original $30 price tag was on the expensive side, but it has recently been reduced to a more reasonable level. The stellar graphics is probably the justification for the originally increased cost, and though the game looks very nice, Trine is now more appropriately priced in the realm of $20 puzzle games. Nevertheless, puzzle fans will find a unique and enjoyable adventure.