It’s difficult not to have heard of Trine, even if just in passing. Frozenbyte’s puzzle-platform franchise has been kicking around for over a decade now, generally always improving with each passing iteration. Trine 3, an ambitious but ultimately disappointing attempt to convert the game into full 3D platforming, should’ve been the end of it. It strayed so far from what made Trine great that it seemed another crack at the beloved formula was out of the question. Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is a testament then to making good on mistakes, as Frozenbyte have again struck gold. It just could’ve used another pass of polishing.
Trine 4 forgets the events of Trine 3 entirely, making it both an easier pill to swallow for returning fans and the perfect jumping-on point if you’re just now getting involved. Each of its three initial levels introduce you to the trio of heroes the series has stuck closely too. Amadeus is an old and wise wizard, Zoya is an effective but morally righteous thief and the plump Pontius is a noble and combat hungry knight. They quickly rally up and set out on another adventure that is whimsical but mostly paper-thin, tracking down a Prince who is letting his powerful magic run amuck, inviting his nightmares into the real world.
There’s hardly any reason to watch each of the cutscenes during chapters intently for the story, but they are a good showcase for how jaw-droppingly gorgeous Trine 4 is. Its 2.5D art style is one of the most striking I’ve ever seen, blending a sense of simplicity to its models with bright bursting colours and creative, memorable designs. Each level switches up the aesthetic you’ll be exploring, giving you numerous vistas to stop and observe and plenty small details to pick apart. Trine 4 stands out when it’s on your screen, and it’s a great showcase for how great heavy stylization can look.
The shift back to strictly 2D platforming benefits Trine 4 too, tapping back into the roots that have made it such a standout puzzler in the past. Amadeus, Zoya and Pontius each bring their own set of skills to the table, which often need to be combined to solve physics puzzles that don’t have strict solutions. Messing around with blocks that Amadeus can summon, or seeing where Zoya can hook her grappling hook are initially great moments of experimentation, especially if you’re just starting with Trine for the first time. Pontius is more of a brute when compared to the rest of the crew, but his ability to smash objects, propel himself through the air with weighted sew-saws and dash through obstacles shouldn’t be understated.
When playing alone, you freely swap between each character with the press of a button, with each puzzle not requiring dexterous switching but rather clever setups to solve. Making these transitions quick and easy keeps the process from becoming annoying, and it won’t take long for you to learn exactly what steps to take in a puzzle and what characters you’ll need to solve them. That initial wonder wanes slightly, especially when each chapter feels like it drags on for too long. Puzzles that you need to solve to get from start to finish are straight-forward, which makes them accessible but not entirely challenging. Collecting optional collectibles off the beaten path requires more brainwork to both find and solve, which makes up for the fun but sometimes tedious main path.
Collectibles help you unlock additional changes to upgrades and abilities you’ll naturally get through progression. You don’t require any of these to actually progress, but they add fun wrinkles on top of new abilities that make them fun to seek out. The new abilities you get are more interesting though and are handed out at a satisfying pace to add new options to puzzles. When starting each character only really has one action you can execute, but it’s not long before you can start adding timely dashes, many conjurable shapes and physics-defying jumps to your repertoire to start thinking about the cramped puzzles spaces in new and exciting ways.
What isn’t nearly as exciting are the sparse but forced combat arenas that pop up in between long stretches of puzzle platforming. The escaping Prince lets loose many nightmares, from smoky purple wolves to large elemental spiders. Dispatching enemies does sometimes allow for some puzzle solving. The aforementioned spiders, for example, are weak to certain types of arrows that Zoya unlocks, while projectile attacks can be deflected using Pontius’ shield. But more often than not trying to navigate around these spaces and take out enemies as Trine wants you to isn’t elegant. It’s even easier to gloss over when you reconcile that it’s just easier to stick to Pontius and swing his sword with reckless abandon, mashing your way to victory and moving on. Combat feels like an afterthought and is a sore spot that you just have to deal with repeatedly.
Playing with friends does create some chaos that helps you tune out the monotony of some puzzles and disappointment of combat, and you’re given multiple ways to create as much chaos as you like. Classic mode puts you and two other friends in control of each character, but it’s the new Unlimited Mode that’s more goofy fun. Here each player isn’t assigned a character, but instead takes control of all three as well, letting you have multiple copies of the same character on the screen at once. It’s silly and incredibly fun to have numerous magically conjured objects flying around levels, creating moving platforms for Zoya to swing between if you’re able to align them just right. Trine has always worked better with friends, and it’s no different here.
Whether you’re playing with friends of not though, there’s a lot to love about Trine 4 and its strong return to the formula that has made it a captivating series for so many years. It still struggles to cohesively bring together all of its elements, and the extended runtime is sometimes to its detriment. But when you’re satisfyingly combining your growing set of abilities and scratching your head over challenging side objectives, it’s easy enough to forget the blemishes and enjoy the beautiful ride
Last Updated: October 14, 2019