When I heard Frozenbyte – the guys who made the games Shadowgrounds and Shadowgrounds: Survivor – was making a new game I was thrilled and knew I’d want to play it. When I heard it was a fantasy side-scrolling platform action game that required using three characters in harmony to solve challenges, I was curious about what it would be like… and if I would still be thrilled when it was done!
If you haven’t played either of the Shadowgrounds games, they are top-down near-futuristic shooters full of dark atmosphere and realistic modeling. Trine couldn’t be much further away from that and still be a video game! While the detailed 3D graphics are there – in fact this game looks absolutely amazing – everything else is different. I had a blast working my way through this game, but there are a few issues that I will talk about in a little bit.
Let me get back to the presentation first though. Trine is a 2D physics-based side-scrolling puzzle platform action game in a fantasy setting. Wait – didn’t I just say it was 3D? So which is it, 2D or 3D? Both, actually. The graphics are three dimensional and thoroughly modern while the gameplay style is the same two-dimensional (meaning you can only move up/down and left/right) style used in games going all the way back to Super Mario Bros. in 1985 and before.
More on the platforming style in a minute, but for now I want to focus on the graphics and sound. As I have mentioned, the 3D graphics are highly detailed. The camera is fixed, meaning there is no zooming or rotating or anything else to mess with the presentation. This makes sense, because the game really is a 2D platformer. But at times you forget that, because the developers give you a real sense of depth and there are so many things going on in the environment that you occasionally feel like things are going to come tumbling out of the screen!
The audio is also very well done: the story is narrated by a wizened old wizardly voice, paced wonderfully throughout and delivered in a thoughtful fantasy storybook style that is a wonderful complement to the overall tone of the game. Each of the characters sounds, well … like you would expect them to sound. The Knight has a big and gruff voice, and the assassin archer is sly and smooth, and the wizard is inquisitive and bookish. Environmental sounds are nicely done as well – there is not a massive soundtrack to speak of, but what is there goes nicely with the action in the game.
Jumping back to the fact that the game is a very traditional 2D platform action game raises a fairly obvious question. Is that style of gameplay still relevant? Absolutely! Trine takes the classic style of gameplay and warps it solidly into the new millennium! Just the updated visual presentation and built-in co-operative gameplay mode alone are enough to make this work as a modern re-imagination of the classic genre. But Trine doesn’t stop there.
One of the best things about Trine is how Frozenbyte has expertly integrated physics-based puzzles and gameplay elements throughout. Some are as simple as swinging a platform or moving a box, but they get fairly complex at times, requiring the skills of all three characters. The whole idea of the three characters – the strong knight, agile assassin, and powerful mage – is also brilliant. It gives the developers an amazing array of options to build their puzzles. For example, you might need to bash through a barrier with the knight, move some boxes using the mage, then swing from a platform as the assassin in order to traverse a screen.
Are you surprised that I’ve gotten this far and not mentioned combat? That is because it is really a minor player here. The knight can bash things around, the assassin uses her bow and the mage uses … well, magic. The bottom line is that you aren’t here for the combat, but neither is it an irritant.
So how about the flaws? Let’s dig into them one at a time. You’ll see that none of them are killers, but in combination they might give you pause.
First, there is no manual save system. I know most console games are on a checkpoint save system, and it really isn’t impossible to make it from one checkpoint to the next given a few tries, but I certainly would have appreciated the ability to save at each screen transition. On more than one occasion I couldn’t finish some of the areas within the short time I had allocated to play, meaning that I had to go back and redo it all the next time.
Next, there is the multiplayer. It isn’t on the main menu, but Frozenbyte included full co-op gameplay for up to three players! It seems like a great idea until you realize that the game isn’t really made for three players, but rather for one player taking on three roles. So when you need the knight, the assassin isn’t really needed, nor the mage. Of course, working together occasionally speeds things up by removing the necessary transitions, but more often one of the players will switch characters and the others will get shuffled around. That is because you can only have one of each character at a time, so if player one changes to a mage, whoever was a mage takes on player one’s role. At times, the gameplay isn’t built for all three characters, so you will have to complete an area as one character, then switch to move the next character, then switch again for the final character.
Third, and this is more of a minor niggle – I wish that enemies didn’t constantly respawn. The best part of the game is figuring out puzzles and enjoying the environments, not dealing with annoying skeleton archers!
Fourth, and probably the touchiest subject, the price is too high at $30. The game takes about 4-5 hours to work through, then potentially some replay to find more secrets and work through some co-op. Given that the PS3 version will cost $10 less than the PC when it finally gets released, it seems like the PC game should have been priced at $20 as well. The reason this is difficult to mention is that there was obviously tons of effort put into the game, and on average game prices have dropped while development costs have soared. That makes it harder and harder to recoup the development costs, especially on the piracy-prone PC. Personally I wouldn’t let the price stop me, but that is a personal choice.
The problem closing with negatives is that it leaves the flaws most fresh in your mind. Sure there are some issues, but none compare to how much fun this game is and how fresh the gameplay feels. Trine is a nicely-crafted, unified gaming experience augmented with excellent physics, great visuals and solid audio, and is definitely a game worth playing. The boxed version is coming to retail soon in case you prefer physical media.
+ Classic platformer game style
+ Excellent use of physics
+ Three distinct characters
+ Gorgeous graphics
- Checkpoint save system
- Multiplayer not well thought out
- Priced too high
Publisher: Nobilis/Frozenbyte/SouthPeak Games
Release Date: 7/10/09
ESRB Rating: E