It’s hard to keep yourself from being bombarded with information about whatever upcoming game the PR machine has determined is the flavor of the week, and there’s millions of dollars in marketing budgets meant to keep it that way. I’d be all for the process if hype made for good games, but unfortunately it doesn’t. Luckily, lesser known companies seem to sneak excellent games out here and there when you least expect them. Instead of teasing players for months with countdowns to announcements and fancy Hollywood events that real gamers don’t even have a hope of getting into, games like Trine sneak in out of the blue and show how good many games could be if more attention was paid to development than advertising.
Trine was developed by Finnish company Frozenbyte. Not really surprising once you’ve taken a look at their approach, using creativity and solid game making skills instead of the typically American approach of just throwing money at something until it works. That’s not to say that ideas weren’t borrowed from their red, white and blue counterparts, though. Gamers who were fans of Blizzard before the World of Warcraft bandwagon came along might remember a little series of games they did called The Lost Vikings. The quick of it is that you control and freely switch between three characters, each with their own unique abilities, in order to find your way past traps, puzzles and enemies, all from a sidescrolling perspective. Trine takes that basic formula and adds tons of polish and ingenuity to create an experience unlike any game I’ve played since the old days.
Like I mentioned before, Trine is about overcoming obstacles by utilizing the abilities of your three characters. These include a female thief who wields a bow and can get to hard to reach places with her grappling hook, a wizard who can create and levitate objects but has little combat ability and a knight who wields a sword and shield. Each has their own separate health and power bars, though death only means that the character is unavailable until you reach the next checkpoint. The introductions of the characters (and all the cutscenes for that matter) are done wonderfully, and not only is the artwork a joy to look at but the voice acting pulls off a perfect mix of serious fantasy and silly humor that seems to permeate the entire title. It’s all just as good once you’re actually controlling your character, too, and the banter between characters and overall feel of the environments kept bringing me back to the best bits of fantasy writing I’ve read in my time. It’s a world that quickly draws you in with its charm and beauty.
Finding your footing in the world of Trine doesn’t take long, partially because of the way that players are eased into learning new skills and abilities, but also because the controls are just right. They’re not elegant or inventive, but they get the job done just as I expected them to, never too complicated or imprecise. The only bit that took a little getting used to was remembering which character was assigned to which key, but after a few levels I stopped having to think about it.
The ease of control helps to magnify the seriously awesome puzzle platforming elements that you’ll find in Trine. Frozenbyte did an excellent job of balancing out their puzzles, with very few of them being too difficult or easy. Most put a big grin on my face and made me feel like the smartest person in the world for figuring them out, and it’s great that every person who plays Trine can experience that warm and fuzzy feeling for themselves. The biggest annoyance that I can think of as far as difficulty is concerned is the final level. It took me a number of replays to finally make me way through it, and there were a few close calls earlier in the game where I almost threw my mouse out the window, but overall the game’s toughness is pretty well proportioned.
There’s also a light roleplaying element thrown in, just as icing on the cake. You’ll find plenty of green experience bottles lying around each level, and collecting fifty of them gives each of your characters a skill point that can be used to improve their abilities. The wizard, for instance, starts with the ability to create boxes that can be used for getting to higher places, jamming machinery, dropping onto skeletons, etc. Leveling up the ability grants you the power to summon two boxes at once, suddenly allowing you to clamber up to previously unreachable areas. Other possibilities include giving the knight the ability to throw boxes and other items, adding fire to the thief’s arrows or giving the wizard a plank that he can create in addition to the boxes he starts with. Not only are the power-ups useful and fun, but they give you multiple paths to solving many of the puzzles, adding some re-playability to the game.
Trine has all that you could ask for in a game. It’s a blast to play, it looks beautiful, the music blends perfectly with everything else, it’s priced far below the big sixty dollar games and there’s even local multiplayer for when you’ve got a friend over. There’s also a demo, meaning you can download it and check it out for free before plunking down your hard earned cash. Trine is easily one of my favorite games of 2009 so far, and with availability on PC as well as consoles there’s no reason not to try it out.