Trine 2 – Review

Xbox Live Arcade Title
Price: 1200MSP
Singleplayer: Yes
Co-op: Online and Spitscreen.

The original Trine, a platforming physics based puzzler with some hack and slash mayhem, was released as a Playstation 3 exclusive sometime ago to critical acclaim, but now its sequel is here and we Xbox goons are getting to play it as well. Like its predecessor it’s a mixture of genres but with a focus on puzzling more than anything else, and it all comes packages in some truly beautiful graphics. But is it actually any good?

For obvious reasons the developers have kept the story simple enough that anyone who didn’t play the first game can just jump in without too many problems. I was, of course, on such person, and was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t need to go hit up Wikipedia to find out what the hell was going on. As the game opens you’re introduced to the three playable heroes whom shall be undertaking this magical journey. There’s Pontious, the plump, cheerful and not very bright knight who wields sword, shield and hammer; Zoya, the sneaky thief with grappling hook and bow, and Amadeus the cowardly wizard who can conjure up…..well, crates and planks, which is hardly the most mind-blowing of wizardly powers, but hey, it could be worse. They’re a fairly stereotypical bunch; a theme which runs through the game’s story as well which involves them being whisked away by the magical Trine on a quest that revolves around discovering what happened between two sisters and why it’s destroying the heroes kingdom. At first the plot seems like it could be quite interesting, but quickly proves to be otherwise. Ia pretty forgettable tale, but a light-hearted one with over-the-top voice acting and cheerful narration. It’s actually more humourous than anything else and never takes itself seriously, which is a pleasant change from the doom and gloom that inhabits the gaming industry.

All of which suits the games graphical style perfectly. Trine’s representation of a fantasy land is like something out of a child’s fairy tale; the world is a lush, vibrant place to explore, absolutely packed to the rafters with gorgeous scenery and stunning lighting effects. It’s like a watercolor painted after someone went on a fantasy binge. The amount of attention that has been put into crafting a highly detailed backdrop for your 2d antics is very impressive – it feels like a labor of love rather than simple code. The only time that the graphics let the game down is through some slightly clunky character animations, yet this is a slight complaint and doesn’t stop me from making the bold claim that this is one of, if not the, best looking Xbox Live Arcade game around.

Of the three gameplay elements that make up Trine 2, physics based puzzling is the one that gets the most focus, and for good reason; aside from its graphics, the puzzling is Trine’s biggest strength. Every puzzle is an open-ended environmental challenge that can be solved using a considerable number of different methods. Each new puzzle has multiple ways of solving it, encouraging you to try outlandish ideas and replay the game using radically different methods to progress through the level. I often found myself wondering if the solution I had created was ever even envisioned by the games developers. At any time you can swap between the three different characters and use their skills to help you advance, yet it’s never required; each character can get through each challenge using only their own skills, although sometimes it can be quite tricky to do so.  However, you’ll probably find yourself gravitating toward the wizard as he’s considerably over-powered when it comes to solving conundrums. His ability to use magic to lift and move objects, as well as summon crates and planks, means you can solve the majority of puzzles too easily by just building a tower to clamber over the danger or just levitating yourself over using two crates. Using the games very basic levelling system you can even put a few points into the wizard allowing him to summon even more crates at a time, further increasing his puzzle solving mastery. And so I had to force myself not to use him, but to use the other characters instead so as to keep the puzzles challenging, because simply building a leaning tower of crappy boxes didn’t really give me the spark that coming up with an ingenious solution would. Speaking of which, the difficulty curve in Trine 2 is almost perfectly crafted, slowing adding more and more elements to the puzzles and environments without ever swamping the player. Yet there’s a disappointing lack of challenge to Trine 2; provided you have a modicum of intelligence the majority of puzzles will only have you pausing for a few minutes at the most, and mere seconds for the rest, with only the occasional puzzle that breaks the difficulty curve bringing you to a halt for any longer than that. For those instances there is a hint system that can be set to activate after two or five minutes, but sometimes it simply doesn’t seem to work. This does mean that Trine never slows down for too long, but it would have been nice to have a few more real brain-bending moments that challenge the intellect. So Trine 2’s puzzles do have flaws, yet there’s no denying that this is still a great puzzler that uses an extremely well crafted physics system and that gives the player considerable freedom in how to find a solution.

It wouldn’t be a side-scrolling game without some good ol’ platforming, a mechanic that often works in tandem with the puzzles, and here Trine 2 doesn’t hold up quite as well as it should. Compared to other games, Trine 2’s platforming feels slightly clumsy. Leaps from platform to platform feel imprecise, like the distances weren’t quite tested properly and even the wall kick feels rather useless at times, with your character doing some sort of half-hearted wield hop in the air that never seems to connect with the surface of the wall. During the more puzzle based sections this isn’t too bad, but there are pure platforming moments in the game where you’ll have to time jumps and swings that can be infuriating as the controls just aren’t smooth enough or precise enough to make it feel satisfying. Each of these sections when completed felt more like I’d gracelessly fallen head over tit to reach the end. By no means is the platform actually terrible, it’s just not good, either. Likewise the games combat is a pretty simplistic affair, using mostly the thief and knight because the wizards only real combat ability, providing you upgrade him with it, is to levitate enemies. Fight with the knight and it’s just a case of mashing the attack button and using the right stick to blow with your shield, while fighting with the thief is a case of aiming with your bow and unloading some arrows into whomever happens to be in the wrong place. Luckily the game doesn’t make you get your weapons out too often, as having to fight the goblin/orcs that make up the majority of enemies is a pretty bog-standard affair and doesn’t ever bring the excitement that it should.

But bashing in orc faces does help you level up your character, as does exploring the environment, using the games rather shallow system. Of course this isn’t an RPG, so it’s wrong to expect skill tree brimming with upgrades and cool things to play with. No, what we’ve got is just a few abilities per character that can be unlocked, such as the wizard getting to summon more objects at once, explosive arrows for the thief and a sword of flames for the knight. Many of the upgrades will give you an extra way to solve puzzles, such as the thieves arrows allowing you to blow apart walls instead of having to use the knight’s hammer to do so. But because the amount of upgrades is so small and theirs really not much player choice involved in it, it feels like a rather pointless feature in the game that just doesn’t really need to be there, other than so the publishers can slap, “RPG’ in the description as well. Still, it can’t really be classed as a flaw, because it doesn’t do the game any harm by being there, either.

So we’ve talked about the puzzling, the platforming, the combat and the levelling system, but have only briefly touched upon the real star of the show; the physics system. It’s what allows the puzzles to have so many solutions and it’s what makes some of the best moments of the game completely by accident. Everything in the game from the giant leaves you jump on to the crates you throw around moves with real weight and momentum, and that makes it possible to do things like jam planks into gears to stop things moving, redirect water flows and use a wind-pipe to go box surfing.  There was a classic moment in the game when I fired off an arrow at a goblin on a platform. He stumbled backwards, fell from the platform, smacked into another platform and then landed atop the gears that were powering a contraption with lots of pointy bits. To my utter delight his corpse caught in the gears and was dragged round until the gears jammed, suddenly turning what would otherwise be a deadly platforming section into a cakewalk. Despite my best efforts I never managed to get that same event to replay; it was a one-off moment created by the games physics. And it makes me wonder what cool moments other games will encounter in their time with the game. The thing is, though, the physics system can also be the source of problems for the game as there were quite a few moments when a trap-door would get stuck, corpses would get mad and start dancing or things would simply become stuck. Still, with a bit of jiggling things could generally be unstuck again.

But since we’re on the topic of problems, characters getting killed is a fairly small one. Now, I’m not saying that the death of a character in’t a terrible thing normally, but in Trine 2 it doesn’t really matter much because special checkpoints scattered around the place can bring them back to life whenever you pass it. Thing is, occasionally you’ll get characters killed with no checkpoint near by and that can prove to be a problem. You might find your knight and thief dead and having to face down goblins with the wizard, or you might find that your wizard is dead, leaving you at a complete loss as to how to get past a puzzle. This does happen rarely, but it’s worth mentioning. It’s also worth mentioning that these magic healing stations can make a mockery of some of the big fights against an Ogre or such, as you can just run past them ever few seconds and get healed up again. And if you do actually die, by getting all three characters killed, you’ll be put back to the last checkpoint with full health, but the boss creature will still be at the same health level you left him at. For me this makes the game far too easy, but for others it may make it a more accessible and friendly game.

But now we get to the games big selling point, apart from it being beautiful to look at, of course; the co-op. You and two friends can take control of the three different characters, either online or by using good old fashioned splitscreen, to take on the various puzzles, and as we all know co-op almost instantly makes games more fun, even if it is just because you threw your friend into the deadly acid. Sadly the puzzles remain unchanged regardless of the fact that you’ve got two friends backing you up, and so it can almost become a joke as it makes it extremely easy to complete them, which is a real shame, but otherwise the co-op is great fun and is quite possible the biggest reason for picking this title up.

Alright, so here we are at the end of the review, and that means it’s time for my closing thoughts on Trine 2. This is a charming, beautiful, flawed puzzler that makes great use of the physics system to create challenges with multiple solutions, but the combat and platforming  don’t hold up compared to other games in the same style of genre. It’s a title worthy of your time and cash, especially if you have some friends to play with, but stops short of being a great addition to Arcade, instead settling on good.

The Good:
+ Open-ended puzzles.
+ Drop-dead gorgeous.
+ Charming.

The Bad:
– It’s very easy.
– Physics can cause problems.
– Platforming and combat need work.

The Score:

Graphics: 9.5
An incredibly gorgeous side-scrolling game that will take your breath away.

Sound: 8
The voice acting is over-the-top, but it works for the style of the game and the music is solid.

Story: 6
A nice premise, but beyond that nothing really gets done with it.

Gameplay: 7.5
A fun puzzler whose other elements need some work.

Lifespan: 7
You’ll get around four or five hours out of it, and the multiple-solution puzzles add some replay value, as does co-op.

The Verdict: 7.5
Summary: A title that’s worthy of your time, providing some fun puzzling and co-op mayhem along with utterly entrancing visuals, but falls short of being a truly great game.

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