Hitting in a moment rich with inventive platformers, Trine [rhymes with "spine"] is an unexpected throwback to the past. It's an old school side-scroller in every way, and with retro remakes being en vogue as of late, the game certainly well timed. So does this hopeful fantasy platformer whip up some indie magic, or is it one for the gallows?
Trine is a modern take on a very traditional genre: puzzle-platforming. On the path between you and the end credits are 15 levels filled with puzzles, perils, and the occasional secret or two stashed along the way.
Trine glitters this concept with imaginative, physics-based gameplay and the ability to switch between three distinct characters on the fly. The spry thief is a master of the bow, arrow, and grappling hook, while the stout knight makes use of a sword and shield to take on assailants with ease. The wizard, on the other hand, isn't much of a fighter, but can summon makeshift platforms and levitate objects with magic.
All of these abilities come into play in an interesting character-switching dynamic that results in an improvisational approach to tackling level obstacles and enemies. There's plenty of room for experimentation, and after a short time, toggling between your party members becomes a natural reflex. Whether you choose to conjure your way past a gap or simply swing across it, creativity is definitely rewarded.
This is all assuming that the characters are alive and well to fulfill their tasks. With separate life and energy bars, any one of your merry trio is susceptible to being killed off, making their party function unavailable until the next resurrection checkpoint. You definitely don't want to find yourself in a situation where a defenseless wizard is left to fend for himself, which places even more emphasis on having the right character out at the right time. The complexity of teamwork becomes all the more apparent as you dive into the game's co-op option, which lets a friend plug in offline as one of the three characters.
As you chance upon experience potions and hidden items strewn around each level, a streamlined RPG system rears its head, allowing you to further distinguish your playstyle by leveling up skills and swapping around equipment. Secret treasure chests are craftily nestled in places unreachable the first time around, inviting a bit of replay value through the game's level select option.
From its down and dirty platforming to the exploration it inspires, Trine is definitely faithful to convention. At a slim 15 levels, however, adventurers may find the quest over before they know it, leaving only the truly obsessed to scour each stage for secrets after the last curtain falls. And with much of the formula feeling a bit too familiar, Trine also doesn't push the envelope as much as other recent indie platformers like Braid. Still, for pulling off classic 2D action with style and grace, Trine joins a short list of titles that do it right.
In terms of how it handles, Trine pulls double duty by being just as accessible on the mouse and keyboard as it is on a USB controller. Both setups perform equally well, so choosing which way to go is all a matter of preference.
Whichever route you choose, the basics remain the same. At any given time, you're allowed free reign over one of the three characters. In cooperative play, you maintain control of the same character the whole way through, making the need for coordination all the more vital. With more heads to worry about, the game actually increases in difficulty, and the experience also becomes a lot more tactical. Floating teammates on planks like surfboards or hurling them across the screen like cannonballs are some of the many amusing strategies that you can dream up through crafty teamwork.
If you're going at it alone, the same level of cunning is required, and you'll have to execute your master strokes while juggling three party members at once. Thankfully the process quickly becomes instinctual; before long you're shifting party members without much thought.
With the amount of effort that's required to conquer each perilous obstacle, it's a good thing that Trine's setup is right for the job. If you're hard-up for sinking ledges and pixel-perfect leaps of faith, you'll appreciate the game's clean cut control scheme. And though co-op play isn't anything out of the ordinary these days, Trine is enjoys one of the best executions of the concept.
Though it may not flaunt the most extravagant graphics, Trine is a game with exceptionally good style. The visuals are crisp and colorful and show a good deal of personality among its various fantasy-themed levels. Gameplay never ventures past its side-scrolling plane, but the environments are rendered with such care to detail that they're often hard to forget.
Intermittently, Trine also sports some lines of dialogue from an omniscient narrator and each of the game's three protagonists in a loose attempt to frame the game's story. Their driving ambitions are ultimately forgettable, but the game's set of pleasing music tracks are sure to linger in your ears.
If you've been sniffing around for a whiff of nostalgia, Trine will definitely appeal to your senses. Yes, it's fairly light on content, skimps a bit on frills, and doesn't break much new ground. But for a solid few hours of enjoyment, this ingenious reconstruction of a forgotten genre is definitely worth a try.
Reviewed on Microsoft Windows Vista.