Frozenbyte’s Trine series has been a quiet hit for years. After a shaky release with its third entry, which attempted to ditch the 2.5D perspective that was so distinctive for the franchise, Trine 4 goes back to its roots and in that, it’s best game to date. It made for an E3 demo earlier this year, and while the final game tends to stumble and rely a little too much on combat in order to break up the long strings of puzzle platforming, it’s a beautiful adventure that’s sure to both wow and wreck your brain.
The trio of heroes has since broken off their separate ways since their last journey, but a letter calling them to arms gets the band back together in order to save a cursed prince from a horrific nightmare made reality, as they frantically chase him and try to come up with a cure. Having dreams become real is a neat premise for a game, for sure, opening up plenty of possibilities for all sorts of cooky puzzles, which Trine 4 definitely delivers. The storybook style that made the previous games so lovely is in full effect in the new one, with colors practically jumping off the screen.
If you’ve ever played a Trine game before, you’ll know what to expect in Trine 4. You get to control three distinct characters that happen to inhabit a single body, allowing you to switch on the fly, or have up to three friends — yes, you read that right; each player can pick from any of the heroes if you play this way — to help you out along the way. Pontius the knight is the heavy set of the bunch and can use his sword and shield both in combat and during puzzles, reflecting light beams or water streams, as well as charging into and breaking barriers; Zoya is a nimble thief who can fire a bow and tie ropes to items, opening up an entirely different angle to otherwise insurmountable obstacles; and then there’s Amadeus, a mage that conjures magical items that can be stacked, used as anchor points for Zoya’s ropes, or even as projectiles.
It’s through the smart combination of their skills that the puzzle structure of Trine 4 really shines, even if at times you can brute force your way by cheesing the in-game physics. In fact, when approached by a Steam forum user, one of the devs stated that “if it works, it’s good, even if it’s a bug!”, so Frozenbyte doesn’t object to the notion of having players figuring out different paths through the game, even though there are obviously scripted solutions to most of Trine 4. That actually makes it feel more a victim of its physics system than anything. Still, like any good puzzle game, it feels really good to get through a tough section here, and it’s when the fourth Trine really shines.
Trine 4 is the first game in the franchise that I recall having a significant progression system. You start off with a basic set of skills for each of the three heroes, and as you collect pink bottles that litter the game’s levels, you can buy new abilities in their respective skill trees, but along with that, there’s another set of powers that unlock as you play through the game and acquire stars by defeating enemies. These come in the form of secondary uses for the starting skills, like Pontius eventually being able to clone his shield so he can bounce beams more than one way, or Amadeus power of conjuring including more than just boxes. The optional collectibles work to unlock extra set of powers tied to these progression upgrades, such as giving Amadeus’ more offensive capabilities by giving him the ability to slam his items vertically or horizontally, or even Zoya’s dodge roll into a charged bow shot.
These extra powers make it worth going out of your way while playing, since the bulk of the collectibles are hidden away from plain view, usually involving a simple puzzle to get through, or simply making use of the items at hand in order to reach them. There’s nothing that really forces you to go for them, though, but it’s fun to break off the main path sometimes. If you merely bee-line straight through, the game’s pacing tends to be a little uneven, especially during the second quarter to middle portion, where a boss fight in particular really pumps the brake with an abruptly difficult puzzle that really put a stop to my tear through Trine 4. Otherwise, the ease of most of the platforming sections makes playing the game quite a joy, even if the combat tends to be anything but.
It’s not like it’s particularly hard, either. It’s just there. Your characters don’t take long at all to respawn after being taken out of commission, so it these fights usually tend to be a battle of attrition more than anything, or if you manage to settle into a safe approach to them, usually one that deals with having you repeatedly stomp on enemies with Pontius’ butt slam, or Amadeus’ boxes, they become ridiculously trivial, even when it comes to most of the boss encounters. It’s really hard to try and tell Frozenbyte how to make their game, but there has to be a better way to figure in combat to Trine than what was done here. It happens all too often and it’s downright repetitive as it is.
For as storybook-y as the game tries and completely succeeds at doing in the presentation department, the same can’t be said about the actual story. There’s very little in the way of a tale to be told that connects its levels. Outside of the puzzles, the striking beauty of the game’s graphics and music, and the clever quips between the three heroes — who have surprisingly gotten really friendly with one another since the last time I played a Trine game — I couldn’t find a reason to care about whether or not the prince would be saved. Still, thanks to the solid gameplay and eye candy, I didn’t really mind that at all.
Trine 4 is an excellent puzzle platformer that is sure to keep you entertained. If you’ve been a fan of the series since the beginning, you’ll find it somewhat familiar, as it goes back to the tried and true approach of the first two games. Although it stumbles when it comes to combat, there’s plenty to look forward to when it comes to clever challenges or the next best thing, a physics system just waiting to be broken in the best possible ways.