Trine opens on a kingdom under undead siege. An opportunistic thief, Zoya, uses the distraction to try and nab a famed artifact, an action that sends ripples of magic through the night air and draws the lascivious wizard, Amadeus, and singularly focused knight, Pontius, to the object. Ah, fate. The artifact, also know as the Trine, goes a little Plato in reverse and instead of breaking the soul into three the souls of each are bound into one so that only one individual can be manifested physically at a time. Thus, Trine kicks off its story, told across levels combining combat, platforming and puzzles in which each character plays a role.
The core of Trine is completing puzzling levels by switching between each of the three characters. Not a groundbreaking concept, but one that Trine delivers with stylish aplomb and technical ease. The knight is your primary defense and comes armed with sword and shield, handy in combat and against falling objects. The magician packs the power of levitation as well as the ability to conjure things like planks and boxes. Offensively weak (seriously, if you’re down to this guy just hide), the wizard is a superior puzzle-solver. The thief is the most well-rounded of the three with both a bow to pick off enemies at a safe distance and a grappling hook to swing from wooden surfaces that is pretty indispensable given the amount of platforming in the game.
Switching out one character for another is fluid, can even be achieved in midair, and swapping extensively is the fun of Trine. The puzzles are relatively open-ended, and I tended to use the thief most of all. Those favoring more cautious gameplay would probably tend toward the wizard. Idiots use the knight – and that is only slightly unfair. Since the thief has a weapon and can deal with most puzzles, she renders the knight pretty useless, unless the order of the day is blocking.
Checkpoints will revive the dead and give everyone a little healing, so when you lose a character they will return to you at the next checkpoint, or you could elect to return to the last checkpoint and progress from there with all three. Being short a character can take you out of your comfort zone and prompt you to solve puzzles in a new way. However, if you lose the wizard and thief all you can do with your knight is fight, or if you have only your magician you can get just about anywhere but don’t have any hope of surviving an enemy wave. Trying to crush enemies with a box doesn’t get you very far in a crowd. On the harder difficulties the damage inflicted can be unrelenting and you will be frustrated when you are quickly cut down to a character that is useless in your current predicament. The liberal restoration of life via checkpoints isn’t very old school, but it does encourage creativity.
The knight, having a rather narrow focus, doesn’t encounter much fierce opposition. There are a handful of skeleton enemies, some bats and spiders, and the occasional mini-boss style encounter. It gets pretty repetitive. It seems none can be too difficult in case you lose your knight and must do battle with your archer, or worse, your magician. You can plow through enemies pretty artlessly with the knight, but if you’re the careful sort it’s easy to avoid taking any damage at all.
Through the game you can pick up health, energy (used for special attacks and the magician’s powers) and experience. While defeated enemies give up a fixed amount of experience in a level, collecting bottled experience hidden throughout the levels is tied to about half of the Trophies. Collecting 50 units of experience nets you new skills that can be purchased as you level up, like increasing the number of arrows fired or the objects the wizard can conjure. It’s not an elaborate system, but it allows you to take on more difficult puzzles without overwhelming you with abilities early on.
Trine is 2D built on a 3D engine, and the physics engine is essential not just to the wizard’s levitations but the interaction with all sorts of falling objects, swinging platforms, and trapdoors. Trine is a good looking game. Actually, it’s a great looking game, the sort of artfully lit beauty that actually compels you to play. The fantasy storybook setting is fantastic, and even though the place is being swarmed by dark magic nasties the environments still look friendly underneath, giving you something to fight for. On the downside, the swimming looks pretty dumb and I think almost every time I encountered a boss it glitched me into an easy victory (the lumbering monster boss would often go spastic, running in place until I picked him off with arrows).
The narration is excellent and gives the game a bit of that Fable 2 vibe. The bulk of narration occurs between levels with snippets of character dialogue at the beginning and end of each stage. The latter are all too easily cut short, which is too bad because with a little cleverness the characters could have been developed more. The story is a good one, and I didn’t like missing out on the already limited character lines. The thief, wizard and knight already have clear, distinct identities and just a few additional snippets of dialogue would increase the charm.
You must clear a level to progress to the next and once a stage is completed you can return to it. There are fifteen levels with varying amounts of hidden experience and treasures in each. The hidden treasures will help each character in areas like health boosts or increased energy. The game isn’t terribly long, but neither is it very short, and with the number of Trophies offered there is plenty of reason to play the game until you hate it. The offline co-op is well-hidden in the options, but do a little digging and co-op can transform the Trine experience as you and your friends coordinate abilities together.
There have been a lot of games in the style of retro-2D side scrollers vying for your nostalgia lately, but Trine earns it. With lush environments built on a 3D engine, the puzzling triune game is marvelously addictive and rewarding. The few rough edges that crop up as repetitive enemies and a weak link in the teamwork chain do little to detract from the very compelling whole.