The Viking killer.
Right now it sounds like every play from the storybook fantasy playbook is being run on the football fields of Middle Earth, but bear with me, for Trine does not resemble a Dungeons and Dragons RPG. No, nothing you do in Trine will be dictated by a "behind the scenes dice throw" and it sure is nice to escape the clutches of chance. Rather, Trine is a side-scrolling platformer that makes modern technology work to its benefit, crafting an experience that stands out above the New Super Mario Bros' and Mega Man 9s of the world.
So you control the three above characters. The twist is that the "Trine", an artifact that they all just happened to touch at the same time (okay, scratch that, chance is alive and well) has bound the three heroes. So you press the shoulder buttons to alternate control into different characters. The knight has melee attacks and a shield to deflect projectiles, among other things that cause boo-boos. The thief has a bow and arrow projectile, as well as a grappling hook to rappel or swing off of wooden surfaces. The wizard has access to the enigmatic "mouse cursor" which can be used to manipulate objects, or create assorted platforms and cubes by drawing them. Any comparisons to The Lost Vikings can go to hell because Trine smashes that game with a lightning-infused hammer in the rectum.
For Trine rocks the house that physics engines built. Each of the game's fifteen stages are littered with assorted floating platforms, movable boulders, teeter-totters, breakable surfaces, spikes, spike balls, death traps and other concoctions that would not make sense outside the context of a sidescroller. If ever a game was made that earned the right to be labeled as "perilous" then Trine is that game. There is one Simpsons episode where someone was playing a generic medieval, trap-filled platformer game that foreshadowed the creation of Trine. Would-be death-trap-survivors can expect a hearty combination of puzzle-solving, platform jumping and skeleton-smashing. But what makes these puzzles so great is that there is almost never just one mandatory solution. Unlike countless games in history that forced the player to wrap their minds around the developer's unorthodox sense of logic in solving a puzzle, Trine merely throws one unlikely scenario after another at the player and lets them go nuts. You can work your way around a spinning wooden platform structure either by, say, some strategic placement of the wizard's magic blocks, or tricky jumps assisted by the thief's grappling hooks and wizard platforms, or getting your ass back to the checkpoint because both your wizard and thief died and need to be resurrected.
But the key here is that the player is given free reign to approach all challenges in a manner that suits them. And thus, one feels more inclined to explore the various levels and make a passing effort to earn "100%". Scattered throughout the worlds are green vials that earn you experience points, and they often appear at out-of-reach locations. But thanks to the freedom of the game's physics and platforming, I found myself excited with glee at one's presence. Thus, my quest to rescue the kingdom was put to a screeching halt as I wrapped my mind around (i.e. "obsess over") how to apprehend a green vial or two. So you can abandon any pretenses of trying to "speed-run" through Trine.
And yes, your characters level up. But each character only has three abilities that can be upgraded only three times; appropriate for the game's length. And there are treasures throughout the land that offer stat boosts; a feature that be negligible in another game (like, say, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) but benefits Trine since most of the treasures are but a prompt to do more adventuring and puzzle-solving. At least experience points make a more interesting reward than…you know, the Assassin's Creed markers or any number of generic collectables that most games toss in as a complete afterthought.
Now, there are some imperfections. The count of enemies is limited to a selection of skeletons, bats, spiders and easy boss fights. Some segments will have what often seems like a never-ending series of respawning skeleton soldiers all loyal to Skeletor. These skeletons can behave like mosquitoes that fly in your face, distracting you while the wizard is trying to conjure some kind of platform structure. Speaking off, the wizard creates blocks by drawing a square and floating blocks by drawing a triangle. The game has a hard time distinguishing between the two and you can expect to waste plenty of magic conjuring cubes in the name of creating the one flying surface. Finally, the physics engine can sometimes…SOMETIMES lead to the player slipping off a platform into an accidental death. But Trine seems to have a better handle of this whole "physics-platforming" business than, say, LittleBig Planet. Part of this is thanks to some better level-layout, and also partially due to some kind of mini "wall-hop" option that gives you an extra mini-jump in case you just barely reach a cliff's edge. And part of this is also thanks to a kind, caring, heartfelt checkpoint system that'll save any collectibles and changes to the level made afterwards should your characters pass on to the other side for a bit.
And finally, the "indy" game label is branded all over Trine, with the story told entirely through vocal narration of the characters and some storybook reader…guy that explains events during the load screen. It's just that the narrator sometimes takes his sweet time to read his lines while his tea brews, and thus take twice as long to finish his piece as the stage takes to load. There are no cutscenes of note, and in-game story sequences usually consist of walking past some important artifact in the background while a character starts speaking in awe. So don't expect Uncharted-levels of production values. (But you can can expect a better game than Uncharted.) Even then, the worlds are shiny and the music is serene, so the game has an easing quality on the senses that lulls the player into an eased state.
Trine is great. Buy Trine. Pretty please. Support a smaller developer for a change. The levels are ingenious, the platforming is fun and you'll almost universally enjoy your play experience. Trine seems to be better in touch with what makes a sidescroller enjoyable than fellow contemporaries Braid, Splosion Man or even the mighty LittleBig Planet. Finally, to put things into perspective, I bought this game on impulse and it distracted me thoroughly from beating Modern Warfare 2 and opening up Assassin's Creed 2. I'd like to think of that as the mark of a mighty fine title.
…wait, there's a co-op mode in this game? Really? Ummm….where?