Wot I Think: Trine

By Jim Rossignol on July 15th, 2009 at 10:14 am.


Indie Finnish developers Frozenbyte last caught our attention with their top-down shooter, Shadowgrounds, which was a little Aliens-y. Their latest game could scarcely be further way from that gloom and gunfire: Trine (as in “fine”) is a side-scrolling, puzzle-led, fairy-tale platformer, built in the Swiss-Army-character-swap tradition of Lost Vikings. But is it any good? And what’s with the pricing? Here’s Wot I Think.

From the outset it’s clear that Frozenbyte are now drawing with the expensive crayons: the presentation of Trine is wonderful, and the side-scrolling world is resplendent – perhaps peerless – in its glittery, clattery detail. Mushrooms puff spores, dark crystals gleam and creak, old metals clank and clunk, wood splinters and shatters, magma boils, acid burps, hisses, and bubbles, the atmosphere shimmers and scintillates. The fantasy world depicted here could scarcely be more traditional, and yet here’s another art team showing us that the can nevertheless create something that we want to see more of, that we want to explore and record. It’s beautiful: especially when you deck a fire-breathing skeleton with a large hammer.

Of course the warmly spoken voiceover and general attitude of “bedtime story with jumping” helps with the framing of all that splendor. But secondary to the success of the game itself in actually keeping us playing. The conceit is this: three characters must save the land from undead evil, and they are trapped in the one being. Knight, wizard and thief can all manifest at the touch of a button unless, of course, you’re playing a multiplayer game, which I’ll come to in a minute. The result is that I played it through in just a couple of sittings, to the neglect of much more important, pressing tasks.

The knight is good at hitting things. Initially he gets a sword and shield, which he can use to smack stuff, and to protect himself from some attacks. The shield seems a little inconsistent, and I’d definitely like it to have added a greater level of resistance to attacks, and ultimately I didn’t use it a great deal. The knight is later able to pick stuff up and throw it (not all that useful) and to smack stuff with a hammer (very useful indeed). He is actually the least useful of the three characters, despite being handy against the hordes of undead that come pouring onto the screen to try and stop you. (The characters chat to each other as the game goes on, and raised a little smile when the knight said: “All this jumping around… it’s not for grown men.”)

The wizard’s powers are far more benign, but can nevertheless be used offensively. Initially he’s able to create a cube, then a plank, and then a floating platform, with a mouse gestures in the air. The cube and plank can – as a last resort – be dropped on an enemy, crushing them. Using the cubes, planks and platforms can often be the fastest way to get through any given puzzle, assuming you can’t just ninja your way through with the thief. The wizard also has a telekinetic ability, allowing you move various physics objects, including stone blocks or fixed mechanisms, around the screen. This way buttons can be pressed, chasms bridged, enemies blocked.

The thief has a bow, with which she can shoot arrows, and later multiple arrows and fire arrows, but she also has a grapple. The grapple, which can shoot off any piece of wood along the 2D plane of the game, is the most powerful tool early on. You can bypass entire puzzles at points in the proceedings, and also move very quickly out of dangerous situations. The speedy, very jump-capable thief is, therefore, a very powerful asset in the first two things of the game. The ranged attack of the bow is also extremely useful: spamming arrows means you often don’t have to risk melee combat at all. I spent quite a lot of time as the thief.

The puzzles generally consist of a number of platforms that are unreachable, with a series of problems through which you must navigate to reach the unreachable, or to unlock major gates. Blocks must be stacked telekinetically, barriers must be smashed, fireballs dodged, acid jumped, deep-dark waterways swum, all while fighting off the many skeleton enemies. The only puzzles that had me stumped for more than a couple of minutes were ones where the route wasn’t quite clear, or where I wasn’t thinking with my entire toolset. Generally the challenges the game sets you are all just-about-hard-enough, so that you smile as you get past them, rather than becoming stuck and enraged. In fact, it’s arguable the toolset provided by the game is actually too flexible in many cases. I found myself sidestep what seemed like entire puzzle sets with a clever use of the grapple, or a combination of bodged jumping and the wizard’s created items. You feel like you bodged or cheated your way past any number of situations.

Death is never too much of a problem either, as you’re only ever pushed back to the previous checkpoint, and possibly forced to change character. I was regular reduced to the wizard, having killed knight and thief, and still managed to hop, skip and bridge my way through to the next checkpoint, where my other aspects were resurrected (albeit with reduced health).

This is rather different in multiplayer. Having more than one character on screen is a fascinating difficulty multiplier. Every single puzzle must be approached differently, because you have to figure out how to get both people through the obstacle. As a solo player I could often rely on a collapsing structure or a deft sequence of continuous jumps, and these weren’t possible multiplayer, because the second player could get left behind. The entire process changes and slows: with the puzzles being entirely different prospects for the pair of us. I only managed to play through a chunk of the game with two of us (keyboard/mouse, 360 pad), but it rapidly became frustrating. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be with three people: either impossible, or so hard that it no longer becomes enjoyable, I suspect. I’m certain some folks will get a kick out of it, but it’s not the kind of co-op that really appeals to me.

Other infuriations included the bats: swarming mobs that occasionally result in insta-death because you can’t get distance from them fast enough. And the final level, which is a bit of a silly difficulty spike.

For the most part, however, this is a splendid sideways romp through fairy-tale physics, ideal for the whimsical solo player, or a trio of highly co-operative chums. I can’t stress how charming the game world is: Frozenbyte have excelled themselves, and created something genuinely memorable. I took my time to explore and idle, and still made it through in six or so hours, with a couple more to get fed up of multiplayer. What this means is that Trine is, if you’ve the slightest whiff of interest in an exquisitely beautiful puzzle-platformer, definitely a game you should buy. But probably not at the current £20/$30 price points, unless you’re remarkably cash rich. When the price falls lower it’s going to a definite purchase, and we’ll keep an eye out for that happening, not least because I wouldn’t want Frozenbyte to suffer if this game wasn’t a commercial success. Creatively, it very definitely is.

For further ruminations, you can sample the demo for yourself.

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111 Comments »

  1. bitkari says:

    But probably not at the current £20/$30 price points, unless you’re remarkably cash rich

    Agreed. I’m amazed by how many publishers are getting the price points wrong.

    I suppose a massive danger of going digital is that publishers can pretty much ignore retailers and do as they please…

  2. Dominic White says:

    With three players, the game becomes The Lost Vikings again. Every room is a horrible deathtrap, and there are obstacles that one character can easily get past, but another will require help from their buddies to overcome.

    With just one player you can largely just dash through everything and not worry too much about the specifics, but with three, it becomes a genuine puzzle game. You really have to get your thinking cap on, and that’s what makes it so good in multiplayer. You need to actually communicate and think, and shout at each other if needed.

  3. LewieP says:

    I’m a few levels in so far, and really enjoying it so far. It is presented really nicely. I wish that there was more modern 2D platformers with this level of polish around.

    Trine, PC – £14.99 delivered

  4. Heliocentric says:

    Sounds good, bring on the weekend deal. :D

  5. Tyndareus says:

    I’m afraid the price tag (along with some initial reports as to the brevity of the game in single-player mode) has also kept me away from Trine; it’s a shame, really, because it’s beautifully executed and even if it’s not entirely original it does seem very fresh.

  6. Dominic White says:

    A lot of the characters abiltiies don’t really come into their own in multiplayer too – the Knights throwing ability, for instance, seems pretty useless if you’re by yourself, but it works in perfect synergy with the Wizards crates in co-op. The Wizard wants to get up to a high ledge, right? He makes a box and stands on it. The Knight picks up the box and throws it into the air, letting the wizard jump off mid-chuck and land safely. He then makes a platform below and levitates it with the Knight on, up to his level, and the two continue together.

    In singleplayer, that’d almost certainly just be ‘Switch to Thief, grapple to platform, switch to Wizard/Knight and continue’.

  7. Dr.Danger says:

    Truly beautiful world and fantastic voice from the narrator, much too short and a bit gimmicky but still must buy even at the current price.

  8. Dominic White says:

    Don’t come into their own UNTIL you’re in multiplayer, even.

    I miss you, Edit Function. Come back!

  9. roBurky says:

    I bought this at release, but I’m still waiting until I can find a second controller so we can play it through the first time in three-player co-op.

  10. bansama says:

    And the final level, which is a bit of a silly difficulty spike.

    One of the recent patches actually addresses this issue for the first two difficulty levels but Frozenbyte decided to leave it as is for the higher ones, so if that level annoys too much, play it on one of the first two difficulty settings first then try again on the higher levels once you know the rough route and obstacle placement.

    As far as pricing goes, I think it’s fairly well priced. Sure it’d sell more at $19.99 but for the quality of the game and the amount playability it has, $30 isn’t really too much to ask for. There are certainly far worse games you could get for the same price.

    But then, it’s a Frozenbyte game so chances of a price drop after a few months is very good for those who don’t mind waiting a bit.

  11. SmallGods says:

    I would like to say, that having got this game, loved it, and ploughed through it, I have become determined to get every Steam achievement, and aside from 4 levels where I can’t find that LAST DAMN BIT OF EXPERIENCE! GNAAAAAAARRRR!!!! it’s all going rather well.

    Also, after days of careful route planning, frustration, and sheer pig-headedness, I have completed the last level on Very Hard, with no character deaths. The achievment is mine!! Envy me! Fear me! Pity me…

    Totally worth the £20 for a collect-a-holic like myself. ^_^

    (I’m currently unemployed and waiting for a new job to start in September. This is my only excuse..)

  12. matte_k says:

    Love it. Very apt, how you describe the narration as warmly spoken, it is almost like having a bedtime story read to you :) My girlfriend loves it too, and she’s kicking my arse at it in terms of progress…

  13. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    I’ve been meaning to do a write-up on Trine but I still haven’t finished it. My first comment will probably fly over the PC-centric crowd on RPS, but I’ll risk it anyway – the aesthetics and platforming are probably what all 2D Castlevanias should aim for. It’s ridiculously beautiful and detailed, giving off a good deal of depth to an otherwise two-dimensional romp, and the action alternates between fast-paced (in combat, general platforming and environmental maneuvering) and contemplative (in solving puzzles or other obstacles) that I think dwarfs much of what Igarashi and his crew have done in the past years with the vampire hunter series. This isn’t necessarily a heavy criticism of Iga’s design – this is not the time or place for such – but I get this strong CV vibe from Trine that I’ve been waiting to rediscover in modern CVs. It kinda reminds me of something between Lost Vikings (natch) and Rondo of Blood, an oft forgotten and neglected CV title. The Thief’s grappling swings are tight and enjoyable (why does that sound like I’m talking about body orifices? >_> ), harkening back to both CV and Metroid.

    Now that the crazy talk is done with…

    Last time I played wasn’t too far after the beginning (the Academy, maybe?). I agree with everything you’ve mentioned, but I have to point out a pet peeve of mine. Whether they’re terrible or I just wasn’t expecting them to work that way, I hate it when spikes on floors chip away health by just standing next to them. When I fall over them, the characters then land on a patch of ground where they can walk on but the game treats that entire area as hazardous. A flat 2D environment would probably be more effective in communicating this – from Castlevania (go away, crazy!) to Metrod (pitchforks!), you’d often have long lines of spikes where you knew you couldn’t get near; in Trine, possibly due to the perspective used, it gave me a wrong idea of just what was doable in these circumstances.

    Other than that, no complaints. Grappling around took me some adjustment time but it’s all been good. Need to play more!

  14. Pavel says:

    Once it hits 15 pounds I will buy it, but now I have shitloads of other games to play, and at 30 it is not instabuy yet.

  15. unclelou says:

    I’ve only played the demo so far – I really loved the knight. Melee combat is so satisfying in this due to the animations and physics.

  16. LewieP says:

    @Pavel
    See my comment earlier on here, it is available for £14.99 right now.

  17. Simon says:

    Is it just me or is it impossible to hit more than ONE bat at a time with the knight? The swords goes through a bunch of them, but only one dies… Quite annoying!

    (See how minor that complain is? Yeah, thats how well-done this game is otherwise!)

  18. Andresito says:

    Damn, I want to play this game!! I’ll wait for a less than 30€ price though…

  19. ZenArcade says:

    Can you please change the title of this feature to “wot I fink” in the future? Not sure why I want it like that but I think it’d be bloody excellent.

  20. Totalbiscuit says:

    Its astonishing how in almost any other market, we wouldn’t bat in eyelid at paying premium for an extremely high product from a smaller, independent manufacturer but try and apply that principle to games and its time to run for the hills until the bargain bin beckons. If 15 or even 20 quid is too much for 8 hours (or more if you enjoy the multiplayer) of mastercrafted entertainment then you are a big dumb baby that can’t appreciate awesome.

  21. Hoernchen says:

    While it was a nice game, it is just too expensive, and the multiplayer part… no pc gamer would ever call something like this “multiplayer”.

  22. Lobotomist says:

    One of best games 2009

  23. Xocrates says:

    Quite frankly, I think 30$/€ is an entirely fair price for the game. While it’s true the game isn’t AAA, it isn’t really a “true” indie either. The game looks and plays great, is fairly lengthy (about 6-7 hours on the first run) and surprisingly replayable.

    By the way, I believe that when playing co-op, you can teleport next to the other player when you fall too much behind. Although that feels a bit like cheating.

  24. Tei says:

    Not my tea cup, but is a good game. A bit gamey and consoley (only a 11.14 %, main contributors: menu system, obituary solution system ) so theres not enough of a EPIC feel. In-betwen-maps lore/images helps a tons, so it ends well over 4/5 stars. But this one could have been a 5/5 and is not.

  25. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    @Hoernchen:

    It’s not multiplayer unless it features headshots or 64 players, amirite?

  26. Lilliput King says:

    Played this with my two brothers, thief on mouse n keyboard, knight and wizard on 360 controllers.

    First things first, this is the prettiest game I’ve played in a long time. For pure aesthetics and visual style, it may be the prettiest game I’ve ever played.

    Price wasn’t too unfair as we split the cost to about £6.50 each, well worth it for several hours of gameplay.

    The three player co-op is absurdly fun, though difficult at times. It can occasionally be challenging to get all three of your characters through a given puzzle, and my younger brother, playing thief, was pretty much capable of completing the game on his own due to the ridiculously powerful bow and the swingamajig rope.

    The knight, on the other hand, has almost no useful powers, so I made my own fun by smashing the wizard’s increasingly complex contraptions at the precise moment it would catapult both my brothers into the water. Hehe.

    The wizard did seem pretty cool – eventually he had the tools to build insane contraptions to carry him over the largest gaps, the fairly accurate physics making this more fun that it at first sounds. Often the knight and the thief would stand at the very edge of the first girder, along with a pile cubes, to counterbalance the line of girders precariously dangling over a gap. Once the wizard was over, we would jump on a block and he would levitate us to his side.

    We did manage to reach the final level, which on arrival was something of a dissapointment – it wasn’t impossible to reach the top on 3 player co-op, but it was so close to impossible that it caused frustration, and eventually we disconnected the three player co-op to let the thief do it single-player style.

    We never completed the game though, because once we reached the top the knight and wizard died in some lava, and whenever the thief tried to resurrect us, we would spawn in the lava again, and die instantly. The thief then mistimed a jump and cast himself into the lava, and put us back to the beginning of the level. Not cool.

    Three player co-op could perhaps use a different ending though, one that all players, and not just the thief, could complete. Overall a good experience though, would certainly recommend it.

  27. diebroken says:

    Reminds me of Nox, and that’s a good thing. :)

  28. Clovus says:

    You feel like you bodged or cheated your way past any number of situations.

    It is impossible to please gamers. We enjoy the idea of there being “more than one solution”, and gamers will complain when they are forced to use the “only solution.” However, we all feel like we are cheating a bit when we come up with our own solution that skips over the obvious developer approved solution. I even feel like I am cheating when I manually aim the sniper rifle in Fallout 3 (but then use VATS for up-close shotgun to head action).

    Also, I think it is funny that they actually used bats as their goddamned bats.

  29. unwize says:

    I also think the price point is fair. I’m often required to pay a lot more for a lot less.

  30. Lilliput King says:

    “While it was a nice game, it is just too expensive, and the multiplayer part… no pc gamer would ever call something like this “multiplayer”.”

    Why? Because it takes place on the same computer, or because it isn’t competitive?

    Weighing in on the price, Totalbiscuit has a valid point. High quality products from an independent company usually come with a premium. Even so, reducing the cost by a mere £5 would have garnered Frozenbyte far more sales – people are funny like that. (reference; the enourmous amount of people complaining about the price)

    Also I just realised I missed out on the weekend deal on Grid, curses.

  31. Nick says:

    I loved this game very much, played it through (mostly) in about two sittings. Then I came to the dark tower and stopped. For such a lovely game that’s just full of the joy of movement, that last level is just evil.

    Still, I spent a great deal of the game swinging around as the Thief, the mechanics of that felt so great that I felt doing the same thing as the Wizard was somehow ‘cheating’.

  32. suibhne says:

    @Diogo: I think his point may have been – or at least mine is – that PC multiplayer really demands online play, not “plug-in-an-extra-controller-and-hunch-around-a-desk-with-a-19″-monitor” play. That’s still my biggest disappointment with Trine and it’s pushing me to wait for the console version where in-person multiplayer is far more practical.

  33. Martin E says:

    @Hoernchen: No PC gamer under the age of 20, perhaps.

    I still recall playing through Unreal with my friends in co-op and that was very much a multiplayer experience.

  34. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    @suibhne: Less pratical, perhaps – having tested Street Fighter IV on PC where one player used the keyboard and I used the gamepad, I understand the concern – but it is multiplayer nonetheless.

  35. Andresito says:

    I paid 15€ for Braid (and worth every penny). I think paying twice the price for a similar quality platformer (probably slightly worse) is just not good enough for me.

  36. Simon Jones says:

    I got very excited when I reached the underwater bits. For some reason underwater stuff has always excited me in 2D games – I remember loving Another World and some random Dizzy game 20 years ago for that specific reason.

    Surprised at the reactions to the multiplayer, as I’ve had enormous fun with it so far. I actually wish more PC games bothered to do ‘on the same computer’ multiplayer, as it’s highly amusing.

  37. Catastrophe says:

    Does the Multiplayer work on LAN and does it require more copies of the game to say, play on two computers on a LAN?

  38. unclelou says:

    If 15 or even 20 quid is too much for 8 hours (or more if you enjoy the multiplayer) of mastercrafted entertainment then you are a big dumb baby that can’t appreciate awesome.

    While you have a point, what kept me from buying it (on Steam) yet was that it costs a third less on the Playstation Network.

  39. Dominic White says:

    Multiplayer is local-only.

    No LAN.

    No Online.

    Local. As in ‘Get a couple of beanbags and gamepads and actually interact with your mates for once’.

  40. Lilliput King says:

    No LAN, catastophe.

  41. A says:

    @Andresito : In term of duration and replayability, Trine provides much more than Braid.
    I own both, finished both… And still, I can launch a level of Trine for fun, discover even new ways of solving things… when Braid is always the same. Braid is a meticulously calculated game, which is good, but all puzzles have only one way to solve, the one the developer thought about, and that’s all. Braid is an experience… Unfortunately you can’t really live it twice. Trine has the advantage of being “flexible” enough for you to replay levels several times and not feel like repeating.

  42. Jim Rossignol says:

    I don’t think the game would have benefited particularly from LAN, it’s definitely a same-screen multiplayer game.

  43. Fat says:

    Nice review Jim.

    I got this practically upon release, and i agree about the annoying last level. It kind of spoiled the game for me, because i can’t stand games that resort to the ”you have to jump up faster than the lava/water/whatever moves” thing. The guy making obstacles appear was kind of annoying, but i wouldn’t of minded if he hadn’t made umpteen spikey balls appear.

    I think i gave it about 5 tries and got near the end but just couldn’t be bothered after that. The game was fun and i’ll admit, quite easy before that.

    As for the bats, use the Thief and run away from them while spamming arrows. Just spam your mouseclick cause they dont really need to have any power behind them. Helps if you upgrade her arrows to triple shot too, i’d say that should be her first upgrade because it makes half the fights easier than using the Knight.

    As for replay value mentioned above. I don’t recall much where i could really do things differently? Unless you mean things like ”make the wizard create boxes and climb the ledge instead of using the Thief’s grappling rope”… in which case i don’t really count it, as it’s not exactly different enough to me.

  44. Gorgeras says:

    I’ve played the demo and this is the first game that has tempted me into buying a 360 controller so I can play it with my two nieces.

    PC games can do consoley multiplayer, we need more games doing it. People should buy Trine if only to keep the developer in bread; this is very special.

  45. Darkflight says:

    Absolutely loved this, well worth the £20 in my view, gorgeous perfectly (bar the last level) paced little game.

    I’m loving dipping back into the levels now my guys are more powered up and I know the layout to try and find the secrets and xp I missed.

    I should try Shadowgrounds as I got it with the pre-order, but 1vs100 and Anno 1401 are stealing all my evening time.

  46. jalf says:

    I think 30$/€ is an entirely fair price for the game. While it’s true the game isn’t AAA, it isn’t really a “true” indie either. The game looks and plays great, is fairly lengthy (about 6-7 hours on the first run) and surprisingly replayable.

    Because it is not AAA. €30 is well up into AAA territory. I could live with £15-20, or $30, but at €30 I start feeling ripped off. We’re up into AAA territory there. It’s about what I paid for Empire: Total War. And that was a lot more than 6-7 hours long.

    Plus, arbitrarily charging europeans 30% more than both US and UK customers doesn’t increase my feeling of goodwill towards the game.

    And of course, there’s one final detail. It’s an individual decision whether or not a price point is “fair. You can shout out at the top of your lungs that it’s a perfectly well justified price point until the cows come home, and I still won’t buy it, because the price is too high for me. If you feel the price is great, go ahead and buy the game and ship it to me. Some of you sound like it’s the bargain of your life, so surely you can afford to buy an extra copy. ;)

  47. autogunner says:

    yeah the same screen gameplay gives a great retro style feeling to the game. I really enjoyed the 3 player co-op as it totally changes the way puzzles are approached, as the wizard can leviate platforms holding other players, and huge constructions made couterweighted by the knight. Its brilliant fun until the last level. (we made it to the top, but there is a respawn bug taht plonks players in the fire pit…)

  48. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    @Simon Jones:

    Dizzy \o/

  49. Xocrates says:

    @jalf: Maybe it depends of where you live, but I’ll be lucky to get a AAA games for 30€ six months after launch. The standard price for a AAA game is 50€ in the PC and 60€ on a console.

    Also, while I mentioned that (in my opinion at least) the price is fair, I never argued that a lot of people may not be able to afford it. What annoys me is that those are the people that act like the game they never played isn’t worth the asking price.

  50. Matt says:

    I played the demo and was thoroughly impressed. But the $30 price is a sticking point for me, especially with games like BF1943 going for $15 these days. I’ll pick it up once it drops below $20.