For many gamers who grew up with the gaming boom of the late ’80s/early ’90s, the long, slow demise of the platforming genre has been sad to watch, like a neglected childhood pet wasting away. However, with the rise of independant downloadable games the 2D side of the genre has had something of a renaissance, providing some of the most innovative and charming games of the last few years.
Trine is one such example. It’s like the amalgamation between the physics-heavy game world of LittleBigPlanet, the beautiful presentation and sometimes devious level designs of Bionic Commando Rearmed, the three-character dynamic which drives quiet classic The Lost Vikings and the fantastical fairytale world of Folklore.
You play the role of three reluctant ‘heroes’; thief Zoya, desperate to escape the situation, she is the most agile, sports a bow and has a grappling hook; Pontius the knight, determined to prove himself and specialist in attack and defence; and wizard Amadeus, an unprofessional wanton layabout who is able to conjure items from thin air. After a fateful meeting in an abandoned treasury their souls are bound by an artifact called the Trine, and they must venture across the cursed lands, make their way past unnatural skeletal hordes and find a way to undo the Trine’s hold.
Levels are designed in such a way to ensure all three characters’ abilities are ideally needed to get through unscathed. After their brief introductions, each character can be instantly selected with a tap of L1 or R1 and when a character meets their demise the other two can then be chosen before reaching a checkpoint and the fallen character returns. The real beauty is that levels can generally be completed by whatever means the gamer chooses - ledges can be reached by Zoya’s grappling hook and deft jumping abilities, or perhaps using Amadeus to build a small tower and lay planks across the top. Generally speaking Pontius isn’t so good at precise navigation or reaching inaccessible areas, but he’s heavier than the other two and has a propensity for smashing objects, which can come in very handy in finding secrets.
Much of the gameplay is built around its dependancy on physics - turning a giant platform to reach a high ledge, counter-balancing boxes on a huge set of scales, or just smashing a huge stone fist through a precariously unstable wall. None of the environmental puzzles are particularly taxing and there is a little too much reliance on pressure-plates, but some of the level design later in the game is devious, requiring precision jumping, fast reactions and switching between characters. In particular, the last couple of levels are superb, and while the game definitely ends on a high it’s a bit of a shame it waits so long to show its best hand.
Two players can play at the same time which is a huge asset, and definitely increases the game’s appeal. Sharing the same screen, two of the three characters are used and the third can be chosen at any time. This makes navigating levels far easier, and allows, for example, Amadeus to levitate a box while his partner stands on it, or Zoya to fight the undead from afar if Pontius is struggling. Trine is a game that is ideal to play both solo or with a friend, and in this regard the only possible criticism could be that it would be really nice to have online co-op too.
Some depth is to be found in items that can be discovered and allocated to each character - some are specific, such as reduced magic consumption upon casting spells, while others are more general, such as resurrecting a character with a little health upon death. Using and assigning these items lends a slight sense of micro-management, and they are unlocked in hidden areas through the game which can then be used when replaying levels to collect all pick-ups and defeat all enemies. Experience is gained from certain enemies and green vials stowed in hard-to-reach places, which allow the three characters to increase their skills or level up their weapons. There’s a nice sense of progression and it encourages thorough exploration and combat against the relentless skeletal foes.
Trine boasts superb presentation. The visuals are beautiful and have a real sense of fairytale charm and depth to them, and the voiceovers are very good, although Pontius’s is a little overstated. The narrator is the real star of the show though; reading as though in front of the fireplace to his enthusiastic grandchild, with just the right measures of wonder, exagerration and enthusiasm - between each level he provides plot abridgement and outlays the trio’s path on a map, similar to Sega classic Golden Axe. It’s all accompanied by a marvellous main theme tune and subtle, effective and understated level music.
In the run-up to its release, perhaps the biggest talking point surrounding Trine was its price. At £16 (or $20) it’s more costly than almost all PSN games and its value is subjective, but it offers 15 levels of consistently high quality, most of which will take maybe 15-20 minutes each to complete, difficulty depending. It’s a game that gently encourages re-playing, and it’s all wrapped in a level of presentation and charm that feels like so much more than a typical downloadable game. It also has a reasonably achievable Platinum trophy, so there’s a lot of percieved value and opportunity to re-play.
Trine is one of the most playable and likeable downloadable ‘full’ games of the last few years. It doesn’t really do a great deal wrong; some will have issue with the price and it’s more of a slick combination of ideas from fellow platformers rather than anything particularly original, but wrapped up such first-class presentation, sporting a nice character dynamic and portraying such a dreamlike, charming folklore world, it’s one of the most enjoyable and memorable platform games of the last few years.
Nine out of ten