I’ve said this before but I must reiterate: although I figured some downloadable games would eventually become good options for casual gamers, they would never be anything I’d purchase. But it didn’t take long for me to eat my words, as the likes of Wipeout HD, echochrome, Shatter, Flower, and even Magic Ball have all surprised me with their wonderful polish, extremely high fun factor and equally high level of playability and accessibility. Now, when I see a game like Trine pop up, I do question the $20 price tag and ask myself, “is it worth it?” Then, I remember the many great games I’ve downloaded off the PSN and immediately become encouraged; I went into this new title with that same optimism and once again, I wasn’t disappointed. For those of you who never played Trine on PC, I’m here to tell you it made the transition very well and without much of a stumble; it’s a beautifully designed side-scrolling action/adventure that will test your wits and your reflexes.
Visually, this is one of the best-looking downloadable games you will ever see. In fact, artistically-speaking, it may be the best, although one could make solid arguments for Wipeout HD and Flower. This beautiful 2D world is alive with vibrant colors, gorgeous lines and environment depictions, and a very impressive level design. Each of the three characters look great as well; they’re nicely detailed and enjoy fluid animations, so Trine is definitely a joy to behold. The only drawback centers on the enemies, which are little more than generic skeletons and a few bats here and there. They don’t appear to be anywhere near as polished and accomplished and in all honesty, I never liked to see the skeletons show up because they’d instantly mar an otherwise pretty graphical presentation. Even the brief cut-scenes that only include still-frame photos look like paintings and blend nicely with the gameplay visuals. Really, I have every confidence you’ll smile when you see Trine.
The sound is good, too, but I once again have to complain about the lack of a stellar soundtrack. The music fits the atmosphere, certainly, but it’s just not brought out enough during our adventure and it’s also far too repetitive, although you probably won’t notice. I say you won’t notice because the gameplay is guaranteed to keep your attention, but we’ll get to that in a moment. The effects are clear and accurate, although there’s a slight balance issue as the Thief’s grappling hook always seems louder and crisper than just about anything the Wizard can do with his magic. These minor complaints aside, the narrator is fantastic and adds to the fantastical, fairytale flavor, the voices for each character are good (although not heard often), and overall, there’s nothing to get into a twist about. Trine sounds almost as good as it looks, and that’s all you really need to know.
At first, if you’re not familiar with the game, you won’t be too enthusiastic by what you first see when you start. You lead three separate characters in the same general direction and while you might correctly surmise that each section is a mini-tutorial of sorts, you might not realize that all three characters will be used at once when the trio comes together. This is the crux of the gameplay: there’s a Knight, Thief, and Wizard, and each character has his or her own special skills and abilities. The Knight has a sword and can easily deal with most enemies, and he can also cut ropes and pick up small objects. The Thief has a grappling hook (uber-helpful throughout) and a bow, which she can aim on the fly in a full 360 radius. The Wizard can use his magic to move objects around and he can even draw boxes in thin air and transform them into solid objects, which is another very useful skill. On the flip side, all three have the exact same platforming/jumping ability; they can all leap the same height and distance.
Well, at least I think they can. I keep thinking the Thief is slightly more agile but I could be wrong. Anyway, each level, which is set up with an old-school, 2D side-scrolling format and you must find a way past the variety of obstacles, puzzles, and foes that lie in your path. The Thief can easily swing across a gap, provided there’s a piece of wood above that can act as an anchor for her grappling hook, or the Wizard can move a box for the Knight to leap atop of and clamber up to the other side. There are any number of ways you can tackle a certain problem, and switching between the characters is as easy as pressing the R1 button. Each character has his or her own health and magic bar so if you get nailed as the Knight, you might want to rely more on the bow of the Thief. The gameplay mechanics are excellent and because you aim the Knight’s shield exactly as you would the Thief’s bow (with the right analog), you can block in any direction. This adds some substance and depth to the battles.
Of course, it’s not really about the combat. You will really only face two large boss-type enemies in the entire game, and neither prove to be much of a challenge for the worthy Knight. This is a bit of a downside, though, as are the spawning skeletons that can prove annoying and tiresome in certain areas. Furthermore, and speaking of those two bosses, I noticed some definite collision detection issues with the giant skeleton; whether or not his big sword actually hit me seemed random (even if I had my shield up). So if you only care about hacking at monsters, don’t bother with this game. If, on the other hand, you want a great adventure experience that makes you think and rewards you for your ingenuity and dedication, you’ve come to the right place. The levels are so ingeniously designed, you almost never do the same thing twice; the developers definitely take advantage of the three distinct skill sets available to the player. Best of all, it just never seems to get old…the progression is surprisingly addictive.
Your goal will be to nab as many green experience potions as possible. Enemies will drop them but you’ll find a great many scattered around the levels; some are easy to get to while others will require you to use your noodle. The good news is that it doesn’t matter which of the three characters picks up an experience potion (unlike the health and magic potions; obviously, you’ll want to nab those with the characters that need them). The experience is distributed equally, which means everyone will basically level up at the same time. You will earn new abilities as you go – and enhance them with acquired points – and if you can nab some treasure chests, you’ll be able to equip some nifty accessories, too. In this way, combined with the relevant stats, there are role-playing elements sprinkled in with the side-scrolling adventure/platforming format, and it all gels together very, very well. Oh, and if you lose a character, he or she will automatically come back at the next checkpoint.
Oddly enough, even though three players can team up and go through the adventure cooperatively, it’s actually more rewarding as a single-player experience. This is because that with three players, each one has to work past an obstacle without the help of any other character; so even though the Wizard can’t just swing around like the Thief, he still has to find his way across. This slows things down and makes the game a bit more tedious. Furthermore, I think it takes away from the hidden genius of the game: being able to switch between each of the three characters on the fly and have access to each skill set when attacking obstacles and puzzles is great. It's what makes this game so much fun to play; the options you have and the way your brain works when it considers all three. It’s too bad that the co-op isn’t quite as good but hey, at least the multiplayer option is there if you want to give it a go. But really, you gotta play it through by yourself, even if it’s not very long.
The only other issue is the game’s longevity. There’s just not much of a reason to go through the game again once you’re done, which may pose some question as to whether or not it’s worth the $20 for some people. Please take this into account when making your purchase decision but for my part, I think it’s well worth the price because it’s both a unique and engaging experience, and one that is – with only one play-through – quite satisfying. I had a hard time putting the controller down. And although you might worry about the Wizard because you used the mouse on the PC to move objects around and draw boxes, using the right analog stick to do this doesn’t pose much of a problem at all. I think the grappling hook and swinging mechanic for the Thief is just a trifle wonky but beyond that, I have no more complaints. Trine is fun, the atmosphere is amazing (especially if you’re a fantasy, magic-and-swords, D&D fan), and the technicals are very “wow” for a downloadable title.
In short, this one is well worth a try. There are plenty of ways to spend the money in your wallet on the PSN, but few are as pretty or as uniquely rewarding.
10/26/2009 Ben Dutka