Each time I play a new 2D platformer, at least a part of me is hoping it's going to be the next Braid. The XBLA and PC time manipulation platformer was so wonderful that nothing else seems to come close. Trine, the latest game from developer Frozenbyte (the team behind 2005's PC action title Shadowgrounds), might not use time as its core puzzle concept, but it's full of clever physics-based challenges, a neat multi-character system and some truly beautiful visuals, making it a must own platformer.
The setup for Trine is somewhat elaborate considering what the game is, but it's in keeping with the general fairy tale feel the developer was clearly going for. A thief, a wizard and a knight are fused together when they all try to grab hold of an ancient crystal they believe to be treasure. It just so happens that at the same time the land is being overrun by the undead, so your adventure as a shape shifting thief/wizard/knight is fraught with danger.
Trine's basic gameplay is traditional platforming fare, with lots of precision jumping required to navigate the increasingly difficult levels. The game differentiates itself from the pack through the use of each character's unique abilities. The thief is able to use a grappling hook to repel herself across chasms and a bow to fire arrows at enemies; the wizard can move objects around with magic and conjure up solid objects for use in the environment, such as boxes and flat platforms; and the knight is able to use his sword to tackle enemies, defend with his shield and is generally a bit more robust in battle.
These are the characters' standard abilities, but throughout the game you'll upgrade their skill set, opening up new moves such as the knight's ability to pick up and throw small items. Trine's hook is how it requires you to think about the best solution to each problem. It's an incredibly simple example, but quite early on you'll need to reach a high platform that can't be jumped upon because of a wall of spikes. Select the wizard, teleport a box onto the spikes to create a safe platform and then hop up onto the ledge above - simple stuff.
Later puzzles are far more challenging, although never as tough as those seen in Braid. Trine is more action focused; with just as much combat as there is environmental puzzle solving. This will be a disappointment to some players, with the difficulty rising so slowly that even by the end you should be able to scrape through without being anything close to a rocket scientist, but the core platforming is excellent and the combat satisfying.
While the game revolves around the idea of the player switching between the three characters, three-player co-op is supported throughout the campaign. Although games like LittleBigPlanet excelled when played with friends, Trine actually feels less impressive when the character switching is taken out of the equation. It's also not really ideal to play with complete novices, as it takes a while to realise what each character can do and what situations each skill is needed for.
Visually Trine isn't the next Crysis or Killzone 2, but it's still a beautiful looking game that makes use of some superbly detailed environments and soft lighting effects. There's definitely a fairy tale look to it all, and the narrator helps make that even more apparent. Animations are also quite brilliant, with each of the main characters moving throughout the world with a fluidity you'd usually associate with big budget titles. The whole package has been lovingly created and this is abundantly clear in all aspects of the game's presentation.
Trine isn't as new and exciting as current 2D platforming king Braid was on its release, but its combination of tight controls, exiting action and physics-based puzzles makes it easy to recommend to platforming fans. It's a shame the multiplayer isn't more interesting, but when played alone it shouldn't be hard to get many hours of fun out of Frozenbyte's impressive looking title.