Despite a rare unpleasant and frustrating experience just now, Trine has met and exceeded my expectations from the demo. It sits firmly in that category of games which have been perfected and polished to an uncommon degree, but which also have a unique and refreshing central gameplay mechanic. Zeno Clash is its brother. Portal is its sister.
Judging by my progression across the campaign map, a mottled parchment presented at the end of each level, I am nearing the end of my journey. And it is a journey that’s been marked by a learning curve as smooth as a baby’s arse. Although I’ve now hit a point where I’m leaping over bottomless chasms and spikey pits while dodging arrows and skeleton warriors from all directions, twas not always thus. The game started at a reassuring but exciting pace, and the increase in difficulty up to this point has been barely noticeable.
Trine is a platformer, but it’s special in two respects. First, it has a joyous physics engine which you’re encouraged, nay required, to exploit at every turn, levitating boxes and platforms to reach new areas using the wizard, grappling spinning wheels to reach high areas with the thief’s multi-purpose bow, and well… smashing stuff with the knight.
Second, as I’ve already partially revealed, you get to control three characters at once. This is a treat, and it’s accomplished beautifully via the game’s namesake, the Trine, an artifact with the power to combine the ‘souls’ of three individuals into one body. The result is that you can instantly switch from one character to another, bringing each of their skill-sets to bear as you please.
Of course, handing the player this level of freedom is only viable when you’ve put as much effort into level design as Frozenbyte, Trine’s developers, so evidently have. They’ve created the perfect balance between sections where you can enter into free-running mode, pretending you’re Indiana Jones on steroids by swinging from platform to platform with abandon, and others where you’re forced to stop and think, then experiment with the distinct and varied puzzle-solving abilities of the three adventurers.
Throw in some fantastically vibrant graphics, gloriously drawn environments to take advantage of them, and a charmingly simple narrative as a backdrop, and you have a surprise masterpiece that’s taken its place as my game of the month.
I give it three out of three.