Publisher: Atlus / Developer: Frozenbyte / Price: 1200 Microsoft Points / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Everyone 10 + [Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence]
Trine 2, the second game in what I hope becomes an ongoing franchise, is a fantastic example of when several different game genres and play-styles coalesce into one solid, polished package. Taking elements of role-playing-games, physics-based puzzles, platforming, and button-mashing combat, Trine 2 draws gamers in with its excellent gameplay and gorgeous visuals. And despite only a few missteps here and there, this downloadable title is of such high quality that I can only hope other developers take lessons in how to create a memorable, addictive adventure.
Each level of Trine 2 is laid out like a traditional 2D platformer, tasking players with moving from one side of the level to the other, traversing pits while avoiding and dispatching enemies. But even with these familiar basics, the game adds plenty of twists and turns to make it stand out.
One major departure from the standard platformer formula is the fact that you don’t play as just one character, but three—Amadeus the Wizard, Pontius the Knight, and Zoya the Thief. Each character has their own set of powers and moves, and the single-player campaign allows you to cycle through each character as you play with just a button. A two-player game means that each player can swap out for the unused character at any time, while a three-player game means your character choice is locked in. What’s interesting is that no matter how many players there are, each character’s skills and powers make cooperation and teamwork a must. For instance, Amadeus can conjure boxes and planks and levitate objects, helping you to climb tough-to-reach areas, cover gaps, or block fire-spewing plants. Zoya is equipped with a grappling hook and bow and arrows, allowing her to swing into inaccessible places or escape from enemies, or take them out with a well-placed shot. As the tank of the group, Pontius uses his shield, sword, and warhammer to excel in close-combat situations, or bust down some walls with a hammer-throw.
All together, the characters rely on each others’ strengths to solve interesting puzzles and cross treacherous environments filled with spikes, acid, mushroom trampolines, and lots of goblins. What’s more is that it seems as though each puzzle can be solved in plenty of different ways: sometimes a stack of boxes that you levitate will get you where you want to be, though you could also try timing your jumps across a bunch of platforms just right.
Solving puzzles takes a more interesting turn with more than one player, as the levels are subtly changed to encourage teamwork among the two or three characters that are on screen at the same time. Suddenly, Pontius can block a stream of pouring acid with his shield and allow other players safe-passage, while Amadeus can create a platform and levitate the others away from danger with ease. That said, the puzzles are slightly trickier to compensate for the sudden teamwork in multiplayer mode—such as periodically disappearing platforms becoming vanished altogether—so even if it’s easier in some ways, it’s never even close to a cakewalk.
There are RPG elements present as well; as you play, you collect blue orbs scattered throughout the levels or after you kill enemies, which provide you with XP. Hitting 50 orbs gives you a skill point, which you can use to give your characters new and different powers, like conjuring more objects on-screen, a frost-powered shield, explosive arrows, and so on. A great aspect of this mechanic is that you can reset all of the points you’ve spent at any time in the game. So if you want to reallocate your points to access different or higher-level powers that you think will help in a tough section, you can do so with no penalty.
In all these ways, Trine 2 lets players feel as though they really are in control of the action and feel even more invested in seeing the adventure through to the end.
The story isn’t particularly deep—whatever reason the three characters have been drawn together isn’t really discussed at all, since it was apparently the subject of the first Trine. Nevertheless, suffice it to say that the three heroes have been gathered once again by the Trine, a mystical artifact of unexplained power that transports you to the magical forest where the adventure begins. As you play, the three adventurers banter and bicker, encounter monsters and giant creatures while gathering clues about two feuding princess sisters, Rosabel and Isabel, the former of which seems to be an evil queen who… turned her sister into a talking flower? It’s not completely clear who’s doing what, why you’re on this quest, or, really, what this quest even is, aside from the fact that the Trine has told you to go forth and solve puzzles. Regardless, the dialogue is fun enough, and as long as there’s a gap to traverse and a trap to avoid, the story really doesn’t much matter. Mario’s been platforming his way into our hearts for years with barely a story at all—and Trine 2 still manages to provide a halfway decent plot that is entertaining enough, and does nothing to distract from the great gameplay.
The game’s controls themselves are fairly simple to understand: each character has powers mapped to particular buttons, meaning that, for the most part, you’ll rarely screw up and perform one move when you meant to do something else as a different character. However, controlling the characters did feel a little floatier than I would’ve liked. Sometimes I would miss jumps because it was so tough to get the hang of just how far I could go while air-born. After a while I got the hang of things, but I still felt as though the on-screen characters could’ve responded a bit more tightly to my inputs.
But I must also mention how fun it was to conjure objects with Amadeus. To make a box, you simply hold the left trigger while drawing a box with the on-screen cursor by moving the right analog stick. Poof! You’ve got a box. Same goes for drawing a line and getting a plank—I have a feeling this would’ve been a great opportunity for THQ’s uDraw tablet controller to be an optional peripheral. Levitating objects was accomplished much the same way, dragging and dropping with the right stick. This power was so easy to use and so fun that it often made up for some of the other shortcomings I experienced while, say, repeatedly screwing up my grappling hook swings with Zoya.
The environments in Trine 2 are lush and vibrant, filled with bright colors and pretty smooth animation. The game succeeds in drawing players into its world with magical, fantasy-inspired environments and creatures—overall, the game is a real joy to look at.
But, of course, it’s not a total fantasy. There are still some problems that impact gameplay, while others are small visual quirks. While the game is a 2D side-scroller, the environments are rendered in 3D, including bits of the foreground and background. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell just where the platforms are or what’s a part of the background. This kind of thing can make for some missed jumps or frustrating moments. The other issues are small, like flailing bodies of downed enemies flopping around when you walk over them, creating an unsettling effect in an otherwise carefree world, or Zoya’s legs staying bent in a strangely uncomfortable position when she unexpectedly collides with a wall or object mid-swing. While these little imperfections are somewhat distracting, ultimately they’re easily overlooked.
Like the visuals, the sound is similarly solid in most respects with a few uneven aspects here and there. The music sometimes changes with the mood of the level or encounter—ominous in the giant spiders’ lair, light and lilting as you jump across giant leaf-platforms—and each level has its own version of the game’s theme, which itself is some kind of Celtic-sounding creation that might work well at your next D&D game. The songs are enjoyable and even quite hummable, but after a while the repetitive loop and the similar-sounding songs might get a bit old.
And while the game’s vocal performances are really great and help sell the dialogue and story, something seems to be off with the recordings themselves. Each character sounds as though their microphone was on the other side of a thin blanket, with voices sounding a little muffled. Again, this is a small point, but it seems like an easy thing that could’ve been fixed before the game’s release.
All told, even with the small problems here and there, Trine 2 offers an old-school gaming experience with a new, unique spin. It’s already a great game with its engaging puzzles and addictive gameplay; add cooperative multiplayer to the mix, and Trine 2 is a must-have that can bring friends together for some excellent adventuring.