Fantasy adventures are dime a dozen within the world of video games, with the premise of a mystical, magical world being far from unique. What has become a novel concept, however, is the idea of a fairytale-inspired title falls into a family-friendly category.
As a genre, adventure games often come attached to either adult themes, complicated RPG mechanics or convoluted plots that stray from the convention of monsters, magic and mystery. Trine, on the other hand, is a game that managed to maintain itself as a traditional side-scrolling adventure that features family-friendly accessible themes paired with intriguing physics-based mechanics.
It’s been ten years since the original Trine emerged onto the 2.5D scene, with developers Frozenbyte being praised for their use of fluid mechanics and eye for detail. Unfortunately, Trine 3 strayed from the solid 2D mechanics of its predecessors and made use of 3D gameplay, which ultimately hindered the game’s format. Luckily, the newest instalment in the series makes a triumphant return to what it does best, but does it do enough to prevent its fresh mechanics turning stale?
The Trine series places players in joint shoes of three heroes – Sir Pontius the Knight, Amadeus the Wizard and a roguish thief named Zora, of which have to use their contrasting abilities to wade their way through a 2D plane of puzzles and platforming. Trine 4 sticks to this formula, as our trio must traverse levels in pursuit of a runaway Prince, who’s own nightmares are coming to life.
The Trine series has never been particularly plot-heavy, with this fourth instalment being no exception. This may seem like a bit of a flaw, but it does mean that players can dive straight into Trine 4 without missing out on crucial plot points. That being said, the narrative of Trine 4 comes across as a mere way to stitch together a purpose for the gameplay, with everything boiling down to the chase after some pompous Prince who just so happens to have got in some bother with some black magic shenanigans.
Additionally, Trine 4’s simplistic plot does help keep things accessible for a younger audience, which is a factor that’s easily forgotten in a market hungry for grand RPG story arc and intricate lore. This approach to storytelling fits with Trine’s aesthetic, with the game feeling overall like a bedtime story. That’s not to say that we should dismiss the neglect of a proper storyline within Trine 4, as it only just manages to avoid being condemned by blandness.
Where Trine 4 lacks in story, it more than makes up for in visual prowess, making it one of the most stunning adventure games of its genre. The games fantasy core is fully embraced throughout every level, creature and character. That’s not to say that a gorgeous looking fantasy game is a rare occurrence, but Trine 4 presents itself in a way that induces a child-like sense of wonder. Each element of artistic flair also acts as more than a set-piece, with various environmental aspects also being used on a mechanical level.
The Trine series as a whole has always been praised for its physics-based gameplay, featuring puzzles and obstacles that interweave with the pace of the level design. In single-player mode, you’ll be expected to switch between all three characters in synergy to progress each stage, using a combination of Amadeus’ magic, Pontius’ brute force and Zora’s manoeuvrability.
Despite each character being based on a stereotype of their class, each will offer surprising use for their skills, such as Pontius’ shield being able to reflect light and Zora’s ability to connect objects with ropes. If executed perfectly, these abilities can have the player swiftly traverse each stage, maintaining momentum, which feels great. It’s easy, however, to end up clambering around for a solution by throwing levitating boxes and rope arrows at things, which quickly becomes quite chaotic.
It’s worth mentioning that while this review is based on a single-player playthrough, Trine 4 has much to offer in terms of multiplayer. Solving puzzles cooperatively is where Trine has always shined, with this entry being no exception. A lot of fun can be had with the ragdoll nature of the physics, with hilarity ensuing from purposely hindering your teammate’s efforts to progress. Let’s be honest, sometimes tricking your pal into falling into spikes is more fun than actually playing a game.
Fighting off hoards of nightmarish creatures in Trine 4 ends up falling into a rinse and repeat pattern, with most enemies being swiftly dealt with by simply playing as Pontius, making his friends feel redundant. Despite this, there have been some improvements which mean that Zora and Amadeus are somewhat useful during combat, such as Zora’s ability to freeze enemies and Amadeus’ levitating smash attack. Ultimately, combat feels like an afterthought in Trine 4, with it being confined to queued segments of a level, which is about as annoying as when your train home stops at a station no one uses.
Trine 4 might try and stick to simplicity on all fronts, but it does feature a skill tree system. There’s a nice variety of skills that can be unlocked for each character, such as Zora’s frost arrows, which adds some variance to the gameplay. As aforementioned, this is a sort of saving grace for the combat, as it means that players can take more away from the experience than mashing the attack button to bludgeon everything with your sword.
The Trine series has earned its place in the modern 2D hall of fame, which is something it achieved with Trine 2. It’s hard to tell where the series will go from here, but Trine 4 serves as a correction to the formula mistakes of Trine 3 and as a way to honour the unique mechanics that Frozenbyte established 10 years ago. You could say that Trine 4 is being overly precautious, at risk of being stale, but the game at hand has a worthwhile experience on offer. If nothing else, Trine 4 good old fashioned family fun, playing it safe in terms of story and shining bright at what it does best – gameplay.