After the disastrous third entry, co-op puzzle game Trine 4 attempts to redeem itself in what may be the prettiest video game of the year.
Whenever a sequel doesn’t go down well with people, whether it’s games or movies or anything else, the tried and trusted reaction is to go back to basics; to make the next game so much like the ones that people did like that it washes away the memory of the one they didn’t. It’s not a very original or daring approach, but after the disappointment of Trine 3, which almost destroyed Finnish developer Frozenbyte, it’s obvious why they went that route. And original or not there’s no denying that Trine 4 is not only a much better game but probably the best in the series.
If you haven’t played a Trine game before the set-up is relatively simple, in that it’s a platform puzzler involving three different characters (a knight, thief, and wizard) who have to navigate through each level using their unique abilities. The original game, which is almost 10 years old now, was obviously influenced by The Lost Vikings, although there’s little direct similarity now and Trine has always been more freeform and action-oriented.
The big problem with Trine 3 was that instead of entirely 2D gameplay it moved into 3D for the first time, which didn’t work that well in terms of the controls and also meant that Frozenbyte didn’t have enough money to make the game as long as usual, and so it had an abrupt and unsatisfying ending that infuriated fans (and which is completely ignored by this new game). Thankfully, Frozenbyte did survive though and while Trine 4 may not necessarily point the way forward for the series it certainly atones for the earlier mistakes.
The comparisons to The Lost Vikings may be largely superficial but there is definitely a very old school feel to Trine in general, especially in the way it’s built around solving real puzzles, rather than just flicking switches or doing what the onscreen prompts tell you. Many puzzles are physics-based and there’s a lot of moving around heavy boxes and planks in order to get characters to inaccessible parts of the screen or smashing objects and using them as counterweights.
Each character has a very different set of skills, with the wizard being the one that can levitate onscreen objects and create his own, which arguably makes him the most important of the trio. The thief has both a grappling hook and a bow and arrow, which can fire a variety of different ammo including fire and ice arrows. The knight only has a shield and sword, although the latter can be used to deflect things like fireballs and while there are enemies to be fought he’s often still necessary for solving puzzles.
One of the major appeals of Trine is the co-op, which allows someone to take control of a different character each. And while that certainly is a great way to play, if everyone knows what they’re doing, it’s not mandatory for getting the best out of the game. When playing on your own you simply switch between each character as necessary and to be honest probably get things done a lot more quickly than when you have to coordinate with others. Although the puzzles are slightly tweaked depending on how many people are playing.
Trine 4 is not exactly a font of new ideas but its character progression system is much more advanced than any of the previous games. Characters have been upgradeable in the past but Trine 4 is able to introduce a constant stream of new abilities – from the thief being able to float objects in the air to the knight being able to break down walls – that ensure the puzzles never get stuck in a rut and instead enjoy an almost Nintendo-like frequency of new ideas on each new level.
There are also optional skills that can be unlocked as you progress, most of them related to combat – which is easily the weakest part of the game. It’s not generally that important, and the infrequent pauses to wipe out a horde of nightmares never takes too long, but the boss battles are disappointingly poor. Not so much because they’re a chore to get through (although some definitely are) but because they should’ve represented the ideal way to mix together the puzzle and action elements of the game.
What definitely isn’t a disappointment in Trine 4 is the graphics, which are astoundingly, surprisingly good, especially given the presumably modest budget of the game. The 2D gameplay must help simplify things to a degree but it frequently looks like your adventures are playing out across the pages of some extravagantly painted children’s book, with wonderfully complex backgrounds and sumptuous use of lighting. It’s not so obvious in screenshots, but when you’re playing it really is one of the best-looking games of the year.
The most obvious fault with Trine 4 is that it is, by design, not very different from the first two games. While there’s an understandable reason for the lack of progression, the fact is the series hasn’t really moved forward much at all in the decade it’s been around and the one entry that did try to switch things up was such a disaster it’s the reason this one has been forced back to its roots.
That’s clearly unfortunate but if this is your first time with the series, or you’re already a fan, then it’s not really going to matter. We don’t know where Frozenbyte go from here, but if this ends up being the end of the Trine series that would be entirely reasonable as it’s not only the best entry but also the longest and the most varied. It’s certainly good to know things haven’t ended on a sour note and the Trine 4 offers one of the prettiest, and most enjoyable, co-op experiences of the year.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince review summary
In Short: A welcome return to form for the series, and while the co-op puzzle-solving no longer seems quite as original as it once did it’s never been as enjoyable or varied as this.
Pros: Excellent range of puzzles, all of which offer plenty of freedom in how you solve them. Highly enjoyable in both co-op and on your own, with some stunningly attractive artwork.
Cons: The combat is really not very interesting and the boss battle are actively bad. Few new ideas compared to the first two games.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC
Publisher: Modus Games
Release Date: 8th October 2019
Age Rating: 12
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