Trine’s central narrative is abounding in charm and whimsicality, though suffering from a relative dearth of originality – foundationally, it is simplistic, firmly adhering to the tropes of the fantasy genre, being a “fairy tale” of sorts. But life and humor are injected throughout, the narrative unfolding (predictably?) within a fallen kingdom, once renowned for its beauty, the fairness of its leader. And the kingdom is fallen: dark, undead forces have arisen to harass the kingdom’s remaining occupants, and accordingly this threat must be vanquished, their advance forward stopped. Cliché abounds, while potential narrative resonance is dealt a sharp blow by the conspicuous absence of any larger antagonist or figurehead – there is the only collection of mindless, shambling skeletons, their precise motivations unclear, poorly developed; this antagonist’s absence results in a sharp sense of directionlessness, though some agency is preserved – but only some, for the afflicted masses are never depicted in any substantial fashion, meaning the player is fighting for essentially nameless nonentities, resulting in lessened player engagement; it is difficult to fight for their continued existence, for no insight is given to their plight. But while the kingdom’s dwellers are nonentities, the three protagonists, each having a distinct identity and motivation, are far from nonentities, and their presence, their occasionally profound characterizations, bolster the narrative, compensating for its other manifold flaws. And the characters are immensely diverse, the female Thief characterized by a certain wiliness, a certain cunning, which manifests itself in skepticism and disillusionment – she is intended to be, perhaps, somewhat of an antihero, and her roughish nature is immensely compelling: likability surges, her hooded figure contributing to her generally enigmatic nature. Far detached from this quiet enigma, though, is the hulking Warrior-Knight, who dons not a concealing hooded cloak but a heavy suit of armor, wielding a large shield in his left hand, a lethal blade in his right. Here, with this figure is further cliché – his words, somewhat infrequently delivered, are crass in nature, their crassness and bluntness pointing towards a dearth of education, a lessened desire for that education; he is content to be a brute of a man, though his abundant resolve and earnestness morph him into a profound character, too, cliched or not. Finally, there is the aged Wizard, who also wears a cloak, though is his of a striking blueness, its beauty complemented by the oversized hat which graces his head. If the Warrior-Knight is defined by his brutishness, then the Wizard is defined by his intellectualism, eager always to better himself, as is evident in his fierce desire to master the fabled “fireball spell,” symbolic of greater knowledge. Displaying timidity throughout, the Wizard is somewhat linked to the Thief in depiction, herself quiet and reserved. The interconnectedness of these three characters is, crucially, original and innovative, and the unoriginality seen elsewhere is transcended and surmounted.
Still, missed narrative potential thrives here, in that the narrative is advanced largely through one fashion – exposition is confined to a stylish map screen, displayed in the transition between levels. The narrator’s voice acting is of a spectacular sort, in that he is abounding in earnestness, while his words reflect the compelling lore and world-building. But this narration is accompanied solely by a static image; formal cutscenes are almost completely absent, seen only in the narrative’s opening portions and its conclusion. Generally, ambition is lacking, and the narrative follows a very formulaic structure: hear the narrator’s exposition, which spans thirty or so seconds; then, tackle the required level, and upon completion, be greeted with another thirty seconds of exposition – that is Trine, especially frustrating when considering that the excellent presentation and world-building suggest that the developers were indeed capable of designing compelling and visually arresting cutscenes. But for whatever reason, such cutscenes see no insertion. The greatest displays of missed potential, though, revolve around the trio of protagonists. In addition to having unique designs and motivations, they each have unique personalities, some existing at notable odds with each other – the Wizard is detached from the Warrior-Knight, for instance. Given these differences, opportunities for compelling exposition are abundant. It would be fascinating to hear these three characters discourse throughout a level, would be fascinating to see their relationships grow and develop with the passage of time, as they inevitably grow in fraternity and camaraderie. In practice, this almost never happens; the trio might converse in the opening sections of any given level, but that exposition lasts no more than fifteen or twenty seconds, is immediately succeeded by near constant silence. This is immensely frustrating, considering the potentials attached to their bantering; the sagacious Wizard could challenge the Warrior-Knight, while taking a page from Bastion, these three protagonists might comment upon the developments occurring while navigating a level. None of this is present. The decision to include three distinct protagonists is innovative indeed, but the developers did not seize upon and utilize the overflowing opportunities for greatness which this character innovation necessarily implies. The writing which is present is impressive and literary, derivative or no, and the quality of this writing makes its minimized role especially painful.
The inconsistent narrative is tempered by consistently excellent world-building; the charm which the narrative periodically displays has here been seized upon, exploited to spectacular effect – creativity and whimsicality abound, with a sharp usage of vibrant coloration, blues and purples having a particularly beautiful presence. Fantasy tropes are adopted, certainly – there are ruined castles and citadels, but these potential mundanities are countered by the inclusion of striking forest landscapes, some of them boasting bizarre and grotesque giant mushrooms, which somehow remain beautiful despite their grotesqueness. Here, with these environments the escapist functions of the fantasy genre are realized, and in marveling at these environments, it is as though the player is temporarily entranced, transported to a different world, one alternately greater than this one, and more hostile and menacing than this one. Crucially, meanwhile, is the abundant environmental diversity – there are the castles, the forests, deep, shimmering lakes and pools of deadly lava, striking in their bright orangeness. In a stroke of mastery, then, each environment manages to achieve its own distinct identity – here are radical departures from the mostly derivative narrative. This uniqueness preserves gameplay freshness, as the player is prompted to consider precisely which environment type will next be made explorable – will it be a tranquil forest of greens and blues, or it will be something more sinister, repelling? The imagination is fired, and environmentally the successes are remarkable. The rapid nature of environmental shifting is remarkable, too, in that each individual level lasts no more than fifteen or twenty minutes, meaning a constant barrage of new environments is thrust upon the player; engagement never flags, but is instead nurtured; this creative unpredictability must be reckoned as an additional triumph, while the detailed richness of the environments incentivizes exploration, which constitutes a fair portion of the overall gameplay experience. True, the level design could be derided as unambitious, in that it unfolds entirely on a two-dimensional plane, but this actually enhances the game’s charming nature, marking a callback to earlier platformers; the 2.5D perspective, so dominant in many of today’s platformers, is rejected outright.
Trine’s gameplay is similarly impressive, straddling the line between the iterative and the innovative. Iteration largely stems from genre – the game is puzzle-platformer at heart, and does relatively little to enhance the genre, relying upon its tired yet effective tropes, the only challenging related to the trio of central characters. Puzzle-solving and platforming expectantly see implementation here, though combat engagements are also abundant – if completely devoid of any depth. But the vacillation of these three gameplay pillars – combat, platforming, and puzzle solving – again contributes to continued gameplay freshness; Trine is never boring, the foundational soundness of its mechanics resulting in persistent enjoyability. Unparalleled enjoyability and novelty arise whenever the player exchanges one character for another, an exchange which is intuitive and automatic, greatly empowering the player, while the synergy of these three characters’ abilities enhances the game’s complexities – at its heart, then, it is more profound than a conventional puzzle-platformer, even if superficially that does not seem to be the case – the true extent of these depths arise only in the act of playing, each central character having their own unique, dedicated roles to fulfill. The hulking, lumbering Warrior-Knight is the central melee combatant, capable of swinging his sword – and later a massive hammer – with great haste and destructiveness, cutting down with ease the opposition, the shambling, aggressive skeletons, while his shield can be raised at any moment to deflect enemy projectiles or sword strikes. His presence is, for better or worse, heavily emphasized, reflecting developers’ fears, their clinging to expectation; they could not embrace a consistently quieter, more daring and contemplative experience always, and thus forcibly include these ample combat scenarios, which can best be described as inoffensive – no new ground is paved here, and the combat ultimately devolves into a dull button-masher; strategy and tactics are almost never required, and combat is thus very active, reactionary. This reactive, intense nature might be regarded as a minor asset, though, in that the bombastic nature of swordplay counters the slower moments of exploration and environmental navigation – somewhat of a quiet / loud vacillation exists. But very poor enemy diversity only lessens further the joys of the uninspired combat, so brimming with potential – the foundation is sound, though the execution is lacking.
While the Warrior-Knight’s gameplay function is lackluster, the other two primary characters display a comparatively greater degree of depth. Whereas the Warrior-Knight relies first upon blade then upon hammer, the Thief is completely dependent upon her bow as offensive weapon, a weapon whose lethality is gradually enhanced as the narrative progresses, as the player is capable of firing fire arrows, can potentially fire multiple arrows simultaneously. Using the bow has a somewhat subtle skill-based dimension which is wholly lacking with the melee combat, in that the arrow’s trajectory must be carefully considered, while the tension consistently impressed upon the Thief while drawing arrow to bow is quite exhilarating, almost frenetic. Should any of those shambling skeletons completely close the distance, the player will inevitably and organically switch to the Warrior-Knight, who can dispatch these enemies with far greater efficiency, protected also by that shield denied the more fragile and vulnerable Thief; these two characters will often be wielded in tandem, and the mentioned synergy is again fantastic, engrossing. The Thief serves another crucial gameplay function, too, in that she wields a grappling hook which can be attached to any wooden object, which results in dramatically enhanced locomotive freedoms – she is, then, at the heart of exploration, while something similar could be said of the Wizard, who is employed almost exclusively in exploration and puzzle-solving, having no practical or effective means of defending himself from enemy archers or enemy swordsman – he is defined by his vulnerabilities. But his physical weaknesses are tempered by various conjuring capabilities, as he can spawn in turn simple square-like objects, then planks, and eventually floating platforms. He, too, will be relied upon often, and the open-ended nature that his abilities enable is immensely satisfying; the player, by clever employment of those powers, can tackle almost any obstacle presented them: creativity swells here, and this truly elevates the puzzle-solving broadly, distinguishing Trine greatly from others in the genre, where puzzles oftentimes have one solution and one solution alone. Not so here,not so with the Wizard – his character is steeped in innovation, contrasting greatly with the excessively derivative, uninspired and unoriginal Warrior-Knight; that latter figure represents unthinking brashness – spam the attack button repeatedly, and sometimes raise the shield. But the former figure, the Wizard, serves a slower, more contemplative function. But these three characters will be wielded in turn, and their powers collectively allow almost any challenge to be surmounted, all foes to be vanquished – adaptability is encouraged, and the gameplay is thus fluid, organic.
Gameplay sees further compelling enhancement by the inclusion of rather engaging progression systems; the game is not an RPG in the traditional sense, though experience systems and basic skill trees see implementation, each of the three characters possessing three distinct branches. In a stroke of creative brilliance, most experience orbs are found in the process of simple navigation, many hidden within sight, though their acquisition is occasionally involved – manipulate these objects, utilize the Wizard’s conjuring capabilities in a clever fashion. These objects, these collectables, thus have tangible value, diverging from so many others in the puzzle-platformer genre which serve little or no practical purpose – in those games, they are simply objects. Here, though, their acquisition is central to the overall gameplay experience, in that many of the purchaseable skills can have rather profound effects upon the gameplay – the Thief’s combat aptitudes can see expansion, for instance, while something similar could be said of the Warrior-Knight, whose sword can become enflamed once the appropriate ability has been purchased. The implementation of these experience orbs and skill trees, then, was not lazy or half-hearted, though simultaneously the progression systems are never overwhelming or intimidating, largely owing to their linearity. Some player choice is indeed present, though progression is wonderfully directed, and the finite nature of the experience orbs – which can also be retrieved from felled skeletons – encourages careful expenditure of these orbs; wastefulness can be heavily punished. The most dramatic, empowering skills of course belong to the Wizard, who can conjure more and more of any given object type as the appropriate skills are purchased. Being able to conjure up four boxes simultaneously as opposed to one or two has profound consequences – the environment can be navigated more easily, while cleverly concealed experience orbs can be acquired with lesser exertion. Just as these three characters embark on a literal odyssey, first becoming acquainted with one another then promptly disembarking as a team to save the fallen kingdom, their character growth – manifest in the skill trees – is like a miniature odyssey, and the gameplay at the end game is more enthralling than the gameplay at the narrative’s opening; by then, the mechanics have been mastered, while the Wizard’s magical capabilities have undergone expansion. By the conclusion, too, the dedicated player will likely have access to ability-enhancing gear, carefully and selectively distributed throughout the environments. As was the case with the various skill trees, these objects can have profound impacts, though some of them simply smooth out the experience, by increasing health values or the amount of health restored at any given checkpoint. The chests which contain these items are oftentimes accessed with fair difficulty, meaning their discovering is especially rewarding, while a clever gameplay balance means that these objects are never vital for success; the diligent player is rewarded, but the lazier player, more interested in the narrative, is never punished outright.
All throughout, Trine strives to form its own distinct identity, and when considered strictly on the level of narration, the game fails; the narrative is simply too tropey, though this flaw does not drain the entire narrative of enjoyability or engagement – the fairy tale aesthetic, the charming voice acting, are delightful; the narrative is playful, rather than bleak, while it is also unintrusive, for better or worse. And Trine oftentimes does embrace cliché – consider the phrase which concludes the narrative, “and they lived happily ever after.” That one phrase perfectly encapsulates the narrative proper, unoriginal yet inoffensive, concluding in an excessively sentimental fashion. The robust world-building, though, absolutely counters these claims of unoriginality, the world boasting rich lore and singularly beautiful atmospheres, highly fantastical and imaginative in construction: exploration is a consistent source of enjoyment, bolstered in complexity by nature of the Wizard’s inclusion, that creature of conjuring greatness, mysticism. And indeed, it is the relation of these three figures which anchors the entire experience, resulting in the greatest displays of gameplay innovation. And such innovation is sorely needed, in that when the gameplay systems are regarded disparately – combat, exploration, platforming, and puzzle-solving – they are easily eclipsed by others of the same genre, which might feature more elaborate puzzles or more precise and liberating movement systems. But when Trine is considered collectively, it surpasses with easy grace countless other titles in the puzzle-platformer genre, and is a sheer joy to play, again serving an escapist function – a beautiful world has been created here, and simply admiring that beauty brings its own joys. The overall experience is a brisk one, too, easily completable in six or so hours, meaning the barrier to entry is low, while the varied gameplay systems – even the progression systems – are inviting rather than intimidating; the game is never overwrought, then, and manages to achieve one cohesive vision, rather than overreaching and meeting with the failures which necessarily accompany overreaching. Trine, then, is a succinct experience, one of considerable whimsicality and creativity, sharply at odds with the industry’s fascination with darkness and mature themes.