These days, it seems like there’s been a concerted push by the video game industry towards the fantasy genre. From big names such as Skyrim to indie releases like Orcs Must Die! and Dungeon Defenders, you can hardly turn around without being overwhelmed by options to get your fill of goblin and dragon slaying. But with so many titles to choose from and a limited budget, you may be wondering where to start. To that, I say look no further than Trine 2.
A little history, first and foremost: Two years ago, Frozenbyte Software tried their hand at a fairytale storybook plot in a puzzle game with platforming elements, layering stunning graphics and a brilliantly arranged soundtrack on top of it all. Throw in more than a few word-of-mouth reviews praising it as a return to the design of games from over a decade ago like The Lost Vikings, and they effectively captured my attention. Considering the budget-conscious price, it wasn’t as though I was breaking the bank by taking the plunge.
Several hours later – maybe days, really – I found myself scratching my head, wondering what the hell I had been thinking. The environments were appropriately themed and extremely lush, with such well-designed levels, clever puzzles, and the music was an excellent mood-setter. But even with all of this, the game felt so damn flawed. The plot was thrown together from a fantasy word generator, and the characters were extremely cliched and managed to feel less than two dimensional, which is an impressive feat to achieve in a side scroller. The enemies were also boring and unimaginative: limited to skeletons and skeletal archers, while the combat system’s controls also felt sluggish (and I imagine are also a skeleton). There was also a multiplayer mode, provided you don’t mind a half-assed local co-op system.
And that brings us back to the present. Yes, the characters still feel bland and lacking. And yes, the plot (“Hark! The Trine is back! We must adventure!”) is still as banal as the last time around. However, seemingly everything else has received a laser-like focus in attempt to refine and polish the game, shedding it of the weaknesses present in the original.
Somehow, Frozenbyte has managed to push the graphics to an even more impressive result. This game, much like the first one, is simply stunning to look at. The lighting effects – whether from a rainbow, a fire, or shafts of light poking through a forest canopy – dazzle the senses. Dungeons, towns, farmlands, caverns, and so on are exceptionally well-rendered in the background while the player still interacts in the 2-dimensional playing field (there’s also a 3D option, but my machine wasn’t equipped to take advantage of this). Water effects are present, taking advantage of the physics-based puzzles you will have to solve to progress through the game. The player characters and enemies alike also have benefited from the graphical upgrade, looking much more vibrant than in the original. And of course, there’s enough bloom present to cause your eyes to bleed, albeit from joy at the visual treat before you.
Speaking of enemies, the goblins and various bosses encountered in the first few levels show a bit more imagination than their counterparts in the first game in addition to displaying some new tactics with the manner in which they swarm and attack. This time, you actually have more options present than the hack and slash from the original. Fighting itself isn’t as frustratingly repetitive as it was before either, thanks in part to more responsive controls and being able to choose which abilities to upgrade (ice arrows, a throwable sledgehammer, etc.) first based on your play style. The game gets style points for letting you take advantage of environmental hazards instead of just switching to the knight and bashing through everything in your way. If that wasn’t enough, online co-op has managed to rope me in for repeated play sessions, even though I seem to spend most of my time being unable to solve puzzles (it’s performance anxiety, I swear) and getting yelled at by random 12-year-olds for it.
Overall, Trine 2 manages to improve upon the original significantly. I’m still not entirely sold on the overall story and the characters, but the strengths of the puzzles and platforming, the replay value of co-op, and the general tweaks to the combat system make this a solid title. It’s not a flawless medieval fantasy-adventure by far, but it does still have enough to make the experience it offers worthwhile.
Trine 2 was provided for review by Frozenbyte and played on a PC. It is or will shortly be available for Steam, PSN, and XBLA for $15.