It seems like the classic genres of games are undergoing something of a renaissance thanks to the now extremely viable independent game developer market. Whilst a lot of gamers will still go for the current staples (FPS, RTS, RPG) many independent developers are making a good living out of things like top-down shooters, adventure games and the good old fashioned platformer. What’s really surprising though is what sets them apart from their classic brethren and one such example of this is Trine which takes the idea of a platformer and turns it on its head by adding in all sorts of curious game mechanics.
You start off the game by being introduced to the 3 characters you’ll be playing throughout the game. They are (from left to right in the picture above) simply named as The Wizard, The Thief and The Warrior. The thief, in attempting to steal treasure from the Astral Academy, stumbles across a mysterious artifact that when touched bound her to it. Hearing the noise the warrior runs down to protect it, only to himself be bound to the object. The wizard, who has remained in the academy to study the skies, also came down to see what was going on and upon touching the object all of them vanished. From then on only one of them could exist physically while the rest would have to reside in the artifact, which the Wizard recalls being named The Trine.
It’s an interesting set up for the core mechanics of the game which are heavily physics based. You can only control one of each of the three characters at any one time and each of them has their own set of unique abilities. The wizard has the ability to conjure objects (platforms and planks) and control them via levitation. This also extends to a good number of environmental objects throughout Trine which will need to be used in order solve certain puzzles. He also lacks any form of direct combat ability being only able to thwart enemies by dropping things on them or conjuring objects that fall on them. The Wizard then is almost wholly dedicated to solving puzzles.
The warrior is at the complete opposite of the spectrum, being almost entirely used for combat. His initial abilities are quite simple, he has a sword which he uses to kill things and a shield that he can use to deflect things trying to kill him. As you progress he gets the ability to charge at enemies, useful for when they get a bit tougher and have shields of their own, as well as a two handed hammer that does more damage and can be charged up to shake the ground when released. Considering there are times when you’re swamped with enemies the Warrior is far from useless in this predominantly puzzled based platformer.
In the middle of these two extremes is the Thief being both a capable fighter as well as an essential part of the solution to some of the puzzles. Her main weapon is the bow which can be upgraded to fire up to 4 arrows in one shot. She also has a grappling hook which can latch onto any wooden or other appropriate surface which she can then use to swing around from. Her bow can also be upgraded to fire arrows for those few levels where there’s little ambient light but torches sprinkled around for convenience. Out of all the heroes I found myself using her the most since she was so versatile, even if I don’t have a single screenshot of her here (thanks to her being a bit tricky to use whilst also mashing the screenshot key).
The game itself is quite pretty especially when you consider that it was released back in late 2009. All of the environments are lush and rich with little bits of detail from the forests with plant life littering every corner to the dank dungeons with bones and all sorts of nasty things strewn everywhere. Trine also has an extremely vibrant colour palette which is amplified by the extensive use of bloom throughout the game. Whilst this might be seen as gaudy by some Blizzard has shown that a lively colour palette keeps people interested whilst also making it a lot easier to distinguish enemies from a bland background. Personally I quite enjoyed it, even if it seemed a little too outlandish at some points.
Trine also combines a few RPG elements so that they can throw ever increasingly harder puzzles at you as the game progresses. Littered through each level are green experience jars that you have to pick up with some of them dropping directly from enemies. Every 50 of these will grant you a level and a point to spend in upgrading your characters skills. These allow you to do things like conjure more boxes as the wizard, shoot more arrows as the thief and be more effective in combat as the warrior. There are also various chests hidden around each level that contain special items that can augment your abilities, grant special powers like resurrection or reduce downtime like restoring health if it drops below a certain level. Whilst you can complete the game without hunting all of these down they do make the game quite a lot easier if you do, as you can see below.
Thanks to its heavy reliance on physics for the basis of nearly all its puzzles Trine is also subject to the same emergent game play phenomena that all its predecessors were prey to. Whilst it’s obvious that the level designers had a certain solution in mind it’s obvious that there are easier ways of doing them if you mix certain abilities in an unusual way. The screenshot above showcases one such idea where I built a bridge using 5 of the wizards objects which I carefully counter balanced so it wouldn’t fall to pieces when I ran over it. This starts to take on a whole new level when you get the conjure floating platform ability as the wizard, especially when upgraded so the thief can hook onto it.
Whilst this game play idea does make the game infinitely intriguing at points it is also its ultimate down fall. The heavy reliance on the physics engine means there’s always quirks in the way it functions such as when you hit a ledge there’s a moment when your character is considered “standing” for a brief moment allowing you to jump again. This trivializes many of the puzzles and whilst you can avoid doing it the tendency to spam the space bar is not unique to me, so I’m sure many people have found it before. Additionally whilst the game designers coded a fail safe to stop you levitating objects you’re standing directly on you can put a single platform on top of anything and the levitate to your hearts content, wizard surfing your way past almost anything.
Combat, whilst well done for the most part, also let’s Trine down in some parts. Initially it feels like any other part of the game but towards the end there are points where enemies will continue to spawn endlessly until you get far enough away from that point. That’s all well and good but when you’re right at the end of a puzzle and the next check point in sight it’s a damned shame to have to cut through 50 skeletons just to get there, especially if you’ve killed 45 of them not 5 minutes ago. It’s the same complaint that many had with Dragon Age 2 spawning multiple waves of guys, ruining the idea of planning a strategy out before engaging.
Despite these complaints however I still enjoyed Trine throughout the 7 hours I spent with it. The wonderfully lush environments and emergent game play made me feel like I was figuring out solutions that had never been thought of before. Whilst there would be some frustrating times where I’d die over and over again I still kept coming back, trying every avenue I had available to me. The story, whilst simple in its ideas and execution, was enough to carry Trine through to the end and wrap it up succinctly, a rarity in today’s market. Overall Trine is an enjoyable experience for both the things it gets right and the flaws you can so lovingly exploit.
Trine is available on PC right now for $19.99. Game was played on the Hard difficulty with about 7 hours of total play time. I’d guess I got about 80% of the total experience and secretes available in the game.