FrozenByte's ethereally-lit follow-up to their Lost Vikings-esque puzzle-platformer has been sitting temptingly on my hard drive for several weeks now, but my Skyrim habit has kept me from until today. I was still feeling a little raw after the freneticism of Serious Sam 3 and an unfortunate chilli-burn incident that temporarily cost me the use of my hands, but Trine 2's main menu alone is a balm for the soul if ever there was one. I've put a little time into the beta version - not enough for some sort of cast-iron verdict, but enough to go 'd'awwwwwwwwwww' and offer a few early observations.
First up, it really is incredibly pretty. Mostly because of the lighting, which is all softly-coloured rays illuminating the chunky, almost plasticine people in a way that makes me think of the covers to early Terry Pratchett books. I don't get the sense it's especially high-tech, just that it enjoys particularly loving art direction. In this grimdark age, we don't see a lot of games that try to make us feel sweet and cheerful, and as such Trine 2's happy face sticks out a mile. Couple that with casually charming, similarly gentle voice acting for its three playable characters and you've got something that's positively oozing goodwill.
The main menu screen! Oh, how I love it. A wide, beautiful view of Trine's world, with a completely controllable character waiting on it. Use their abilities, jump around, or switch to another character: a tiny playground encapsulating what the game is, more succinctly than any words or video ever could. (The jolly-fantasy-inn music's slightly annoying, though).
As before, you're in control of a Knight (stabby/smashy/shieldy), a wizard (block-conjurery/levitatey) and a rogue (arrowy/batropey/invisibly), switching between the three as and when required in order to navigate around side-scrolling levels, peppered with physics puzzles and occasional enemies. It's not too prescribed, I was glad to discover - I often managed to fudge together a solution that probably shouldn't have worked but just about did, such as summoning a crate with the wizard then cackhandedly jumping onto to its uppermost corner as it tumbled down the hill I'd foolishly conjured it on, which just gave me the height needed to reach an overhead platform.
And that sort of thing's the joy of it - there clearly are square peg/square hole puzzle answers, but the chaotic nature of its full physics system means there are all manner of ad-hoc methods too.
There are intermittent setpiece puzzles aside from the standard navigation, and at least one saw me break out in a big, helplessly goofy smile of the kind that would see my girlfriend refuse to make physical contact with me for at least 48 hours. Giant (giant!) snail drinking happily from a trickle of water running down an overhead log, and as such is blocking the door you need to go through. Won't spoil the solution, but it's such a deftly-done puzzle, quietly chaining together a couple of disciplines you've picked up in your journey so far and rewarding you with a cheesy but delightful animation when you pull it off.
There's an upgrade tree for the powers in there, which I've only just started to delve into, but it seems to focus on dramatic expansion of abilities rather than minor stat-boosts. For instance, the wizard can eventually summon up to four crates at once, or the knight can lob his hammer across the screen. The perks you pick affect how you go about solving puzzles, again adding to that fixed-but-forgiving feel, like undoing the top button on your trousers to make room for a big meal.
At times, I'll concede Trine 2 can seem a bit too fiddly, requiring the rapid memorisation of an awful lot of tactics and just what works on what (is that the type of block hammers can smash, or one that has to be levitated? Can I shoot my grappling hook into that bit of ceiling, or is it only the bits that look like wood?), but it's generous with its checkpoints and the eventual aha! moments are always proud ones when you have 'em. Of course, it's really a co-op game, with three players each controlling one character, and I'm expecting oddles of ad-hoc ingenuity there. I'll be trying to rabble-rouse team RPS for a look at that side of the game next week.
(I must note that Trine 2 also reminds me of a less rigid Fury of the Furries, the first videogame I ever bought with my own money. That's another reason I find it very hard not to feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I play it)
Trine 2 is due for release at some point next month. You can pre-order now, if you so wish.