For whatever reason, side-scrolling platformers just don’t seem to come around very often on the PC. I have this perception, though admittedly I don’t currently own a console game of any kind and perhaps I’m reaching back to the days of the first Nintendo, that a fair chunk of console gaming is side-scrollers like Mario Bros. and their forty sequels. As I said, I could be wrong. Anyway, on the PC side of things the last side-scroller I can recall was Bionic Commando Rearmed. Before that, you have to go back to Heart of Darkness, which Wikipedia tells me was 11 years ago. Perhaps I’m belaboring the point – we just don’t get many such games on the PC, which is a good portion of why Trine is so refreshing and different. It doesn’t hurt that the graphics are possibly as good as they can get for a side-scroller or that the physics engine they’re using is swell, but Trine is just a great little game. Oh, no one is going to play Trine for 20 hours in a row – for one the entire game isn’t that long – but then again every game doesn’t have to be Bioshock or Civilization, does it?
The Trine story treads the well-worn path of the death of a king with no successor, the kingdom collapsing into war and chaos, and the forces of evil moving in. Enter a thief who searches the abandoned castle in search of treasure and happens upon a mysterious magical object. She is pursued by a knight who still guards the castle despite the king being dead. He sees her holding the object and goes to take it from her. Then enters a wizard who was practicing nearby and saw her enter the castle. He too touches the object and the three of them are somehow melded into one soul.
So begins Trine, your job being to make your way through the castle to another magical object that will allow you to separate your souls and perhaps defeat the evil that has overrun the kingdom. In what I see as a kind of unique spin, you need not choose between playing as the knight, wizard, or thief – you play as all three, selecting which character you want to be at any time at all with a single keystroke. The thief is the most agile of the characters and can fire a grappling hook to climb or swing and uses a bow in combat. The knight can lift heavy objects and fights with a sword and shield. The wizard can move many objects with magic and can create planks and boxes for climbing over and avoiding traps (but regrettably has no offensive power, short of perhaps creating a box and dropping it on the enemy). The different puzzles you come across in the game can be solved in different ways depending on which character you choose, some of the more complex puzzles requiring that you use a combination of characters and skills.
Trine contains some very light RPG elements. Green vessels scattered around the levels grant experience points which can be applied to granting new abilities – allowing the magic user to create new objects, giving the thief’s bow and arrow dual shots are fire arrows. Occasional chests contain items that the characters can equip. They grant surprisingly significant improvements and are very few and far between – you would be best advised to keep an eye out of them and try to get them when they appear. Vials of health and mana are also to be found.
Much of the side-scrolling action would be far less entertaining if it wasn’t for the physics engine, which is really something special. Objects behave as if they have real weight, falling, tumbling, settling to their lowest gravitational orientation. Blows from the knight’s sword lead to realistic knockback, both for creatures and objects. The grappling hook of the thief leads to all sorts of neat interactions. All of these things result in a mix of gameplay elements that makes each interaction, each puzzle, a joy to manipulate and solve.
I know I’ve already mentioned that the graphics are great, but I feel as though I almost can’t stress that enough. The backgrounds look as though they were taken from classical paintings. The lighting is integral to creating the atmosphere of the various levels. Shards of light dance along the edges of blooms of crystal while candles and lamps cast luminous pools of golden light. In contrast the ruins of the castles veritably crumble before your eyes, leaving remnants of machines mysterious and huge, giant systems of pulleys, ropes, platforms, and lifts. The incredible artwork creates a kingdom that is a wonder to behold and explore.
Trine is an extremely well-balanced and clever game. A little combat, a little platforming action, some very well-designed puzzling – the overall effect resulting in a quite enticing game. The game mechanics are smooth and responsive, leading to platforming action that is enjoyable, avoiding the pitfall of frustration that can often accompany such activities. Even more, it comes at the paltry bargain price of $20, and really there are very few ways that a gaming dollar could be better spent.