Trine is a platformer of obligation.
Format: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Release Date: 2009-09-11
There are myriad reasons to recommend Trine. It's beautiful, for one.
Playing through Trine is like gazing at a gorgeous oil-painted landscape that just keeps moving, keeps developing, and keeps finding new ways to make your jaw drop in silent awe. Few games have been produced that have this sort of richness of color and aesthetic, enough so that one would almost rather watch than play simply so that the details of it all won't get missed.
Its pedigree is solid, for two.
The most common point of reference for Trine in most of its glowing write-ups has been The Lost Vikings, that old Blizzard platformer from back before Blizzard was a massive multiplayer success story, and nothing can make you remember how much fun an old game was quite like playing a new game that's almost impossible to discuss without it as context. Platforming that involves switching on the fly between three distinct characters doesn't come along every day, after all. The all-the-rage physics-based gameplay (see: World of Goo, Crayon Physics) augments the platforming in a way terribly similar to LittleBigPlanet (not to mention the almost simultaneously released NyxQuest), and hacking at skeletons is simply a timeless gaming pastime that will never get old.
Its price is right, for three.
Sure, maybe you'll scoff at the fact that one solid night of gameplay could have you beating the entire game, but the joy of it lies in the approach. Many of the game's puzzles can be solved by any one of the three playable characters, and much of the fun of the game is figuring out how this can happen. Should the thief grapple up to the ledge, or should the wizard conjure a box, put it on the mid-range platform, and just hop up to the ledge? Should the thief attack the giant skeleton from a distance, or should the knight run up and hack at it? Long after the five or six hours of adventure is done, going back and exploring the answers to these questions offers a sort of replay value that platformers don't typically offer. This isn't even to mention the entirely separate dynamic that cooperative (and in many cases, I must use that term loosely) multiplayer lends the game, making it worth a second traversal simply to see what it takes to master these puzzles in a cooperative sense rather than a singular, straightforward puzzle-solving sense.
All this is to say that $20 (or particularly the $30 that it cost when it first came out) seems like something of a high price for five or six hours of gameplay, but it's the type of game that will give you far more than those five or six hours if you let it.
All of this together, then, adds up to Trine being a great game. Maybe even one of the year's best, right?
Well, not exactly. Trine is good and all of the above reasons are perfectly valid, but it will also never take its place in your mind among the great games, much less the great platformers.
Platformers like Trine and LittleBigPlanet make a point of taxing the brain as much as the thumbs. Still, there's something that LittleBigPlanet (and, to a lesser extent, the aforementioned NyxQuest) has that Trine never quite musters, something that seems essential to a platforming experience: there's very little urgency, very little sense of forward motion. Most of Trine's puzzles present themselves as just that -- puzzles, usually single-screen puzzles that give the player a certain set of ingredients with which to solve those puzzles. As such, you spend a lot of time standing still, looking at the environment, and trying to figure out what to do next.
What's worse, while there's a story, it rarely feels as though there's any sense of reason that we should be moving from left to right through this wondrously drawn fantasy world. You do it because that's what you're supposed to do in these kinds of games. Our three heroes would like for their essences to be separated from one another, but how they're going to do that and what getting from one point to the next is going to do to help with this, the goal of the narrative, is often presented in an opaque, non-obvious way. It plays naturally into the brain games that Trine features as its hallmark, but at some point, there needs to be some sort of impact, some sort of push forward, and at no point does that really occur. It's a platformer of obligation.
Of course, one can forgive a lot when the end result is so pretty. Trine has an awful lot going for it, and it's an independent production to boot, which makes you want to root for it. It's a better than average platformer based entirely on its presentation. Still, somehow those six hours or so actually felt a little long, a little bit tedious for a platformer. One can certainly see how someone could love this game, but it's certainly not a foregone conclusion. Trine is solid, even extraordinary in places, but it is a little bit of motivation away from great.