Once upon a time, a devoted father and his two children, his sweet son and daughter, embarked on an epic journey. There was no where and no why, only adventure. Across many beautiful and strange landscapes, the trio ventured. Along the way, they had many strange and dangerous encounters. There were traps, trolls, giant spiders, giant snails, man-eating plants, and gouts of flame. One by one, each obstacle was conquered in turn. The ground was stained with the blood of every living creature who dared to threaten them. The devoted father led the way in his shining suit of armor, determined to protect his son and daughter from any and all danger. His bright daughter plumbed the arcane depths to support them with magic, and the youngest, the son, picked off enemies from afar with his bow. Despite the hardships they endured, and the threats they faced, he managed to keep them safe, for that is the one and only true job of a father. It was shaping up to be a glorious experience; the kind of experience you remember forever.
However, as they pushed deeper into the strange and increasingly more alien world, the threats became more threatening, the dangers more dangerous, and the traps more, uh, trappy. Eventually they came to a wide chasm that seemed uncrossable. Try as they might, they could not find the secret that would unlock the way. Tensions grew as each of the three adventurers argued the superiority of their own idea; unfortunately the execution of a plan required a consensus and none could be found. They were at an impasse. What seemed like hours passed. There was yelling, hitting, and name-calling, but soon the wisdom of the father prevailed. He had an idea.
“Allow me access to your grand wizard powers dear daughter,” the man said. “I have an idea that I think will work.”
The swap took place, and now the father was in control of forces so awesome, even gravity cowered before him. Tapping into the arcane depths, he conjured a clockwork box and ordered his two young charges to get on it. They complied and soon found themselves floating. Summoning all his concentration, their father moved them across the bottomless depths toward where he assumed must be more solid ground. However, unknown to the clueless riders, another plan was afoot. When the clockwork box was as far away from solid ground as it could possibly be, he knew it was time. With a simple flick of the wrist, he rotated the box until the inevitable pull of gravity overcame friction and his two children, he’d previously done everything in his power to keep safe, fell to their deaths. Having succeeded in his dark plot, he turned off his Xbox 360 and retired to his bedroom to hide, emerging only to relay his story…
Yes, I am the father in tale you just heard, and yes, I dumped my children into a bottomless pit and laughed at their demise. Why? I did it because Trine 2 for the Xbox 360 is simultaneously the most wonderful and most infuriating videogame I’ve ever played. If you would be so kind as to allow me another flight of fancy, I can’t help but think it is only fitting to break the remainder of this review up into two sections: The Wonderful and The Infuriating. So that’s what I’m going to do; let’s get started.
The Wonderful: Where to begin? The instant I sat down and fired up Trine 2, before my kids and I began our grand “adventure,” I was stunned by the sheer beauty of the game’s graphics and art design. Trine 2 is an unequivocal joy to look at. It may only be a downloadable 2D platformer/RPG hybrid, but Trine 2’s visuals are definitely competing above their weight class. It’s not only the best looking downloadable game I’ve ever seen, it’s arguably one of the best looking game of this generation. Colors are so vibrant I had to keep reminding myself when I played it that I didn’t just drop acid. And it doesn’t stop with the colors either, the third dimension is there in force to provide Trine 2 with top-notch graphical depth and detail. Even though you can’t access it, it looked so superb that I constantly battled with the urge to try and explore it. The environments, which range from forests, to beaches (the water there is a marvel), to mysterious mansions filled with traps, are all wonderfully rendered and fully realized. As I played, I was always torn between moving on and just staring lovingly at the detail, much of it moving, in the background. The visuals alone are enough for me to recommend Trine 2 to anyone in the market for such a game.
Also, firmly in The Wonderful camp is the gameplay. Trine 2 is a platformer at heart, but it hangs a lampshade on classic RPG tropes as well. You play as one of three classic RPG characters: the warrior, the mage, and the rogue. The warrior is armed with a sword and shield (that can eventually be imbued with fire and ice) and a two-handed warhammer (you can eventually throw) that can be swapped on the fly. The mage gets no weapons, but is armed with the ability to conjure boxes and (later on) planks. He can also levitate them at will and also can gain the ability to lift enemies, rendering them helpless and removing them from the battle via any number of nasty ways. Lastly, the rogue gets a grappling hook, bow and arrow (which can also get the fire and ice treatments), and she can gain a stealth ability as well. One or two players can freely switch between the three characters, and often it’s required to pass the many traps and physics puzzles that you’ll encounter. With three players, it’s like the smallest WoW raid ever with the warrior drawing all the agro, while the mage and rogue work together to damage enemies from afar. Furthering the RPG aspects are the (albeit tiny) skill trees you get access to by leveling up, which you do by collecting blue bottles and orbs found hidden in the world and dropped by enemies. Co-op really takes advantage of the three classes, often requiring a high degree of teamwork and coordination between the three players that you can play with online, or right there on your couch via wonderfully split screen-free couch co-op. That couch co-op was the heart of my experience, so much so I never even managed to take it online. I couldn’t imagine playing it with strangers when I had my kids right there to enjoy it with me.
Unfortunately, it’s that very same co-op that’s at the heart of why I found Trine 2 completely infuriating.
The Infuriating: I want to start out by saying that the issues I had may have been because of my own, admittedly, very idiosyncratic play through involving a six-year-old and an eleven-year-old almost exclusively, but under the right circumstances, I feel they can be applicable to everyone. My number one issue with Trine 2 was that many of the game’s enemy encounters and puzzles require you and your co-op partner(s) to operate as a well-oiled machine. Ideally, your party would need to be members of the same hive-mind, because differing ideas and communication styles will lead to intense frustration for everyone involved. We spent as much time arguing about how to attack a situation as we did executing whatever plan we came up with. When everything went smoothly, it was great, but when it went wrong, it went wrong spectacularly, often leading to the death of one or two characters and leaving the remaining one little choice but to join up in the afterlife because certain characters just can’t accomplish certain tasks.
For example, if the mage finds himself alone with enemies he’s a goner as he has very limited offensive capabilities (they’re essentially zero since he can’t block and levitating enemies or dropping boxes on them takes too much time and does too little damage). The rogue has similar issues. She too cannot block and her bow and arrow is just too slow to handle fast and swarming enemy attacks. Only the warrior is really able to handle anything thrown at him, since he can negate most melee and ranged damage with his shield, while also maintaining the same speed and jumping abilities as the other two characters. The truth is that if the warrior dies in battle, it leaves the mage and rogue completely vulnerable, and the odds are that if there’s more than one enemy left alive, they’ll die as well no matter what. It would have been nice to see more balance in that regard. The mage and rogue need defensive capabilities and the mage specifically could benefit greatly from some kind of offensive spell that does direct damage - especially since he has no healing spells. My point is that if you can’t get your partners to understand what you need them to do immediately (or, conversely, they can’t get you to), it will make combat nearly impossible and puzzles an exercise in anger management. Three people all intent on doing their own thing makes the game practically unplayable. It’s never a good thing for such a lighthearted and decidedly non-hardcore game to require so much thought in choosing your co-op partners.
Another disappointing aspect was the fact that many of the puzzles could be simply cheesed through with no regard for the solution the developers intended. All you had to do was have your mage conjure a box or a plank, float the warrior and rogue across the gap or obstacle then switch the mage with someone else so he can float the third character across. Alternately, once you got two characters to the other side, they could just advance through the level and as soon as they edged off the screen, the other one would be teleported across to accommodate the limits of the camera - a camera that, by the way, alternated between perfect and punitive. I felt like I was missing out on all the game had to offer because it was just too easy to bypass difficult puzzles. On the other hand, the few times I played alone, I found myself stuck trying to accomplish jumps and other feats that were made more difficult than they needed to be by slippery movement and touchy controls.
Finally, I was disappointed by two smaller issues. First, the story seemed to be dependant on having played the first Trine to have an inkling of what was going on. A lot of the audio was mixed too low (a capital crime in game development land, if you ask me) to hear dialog most of the time. You shouldn’t have to turn on subtitles just to understand what main characters are saying during important story development moments. I have no problem with reading, but I don’t always want to do it when I am gaming. Also, said story development moments were awfully sparse. Like I said, it just seemed like they assumed you played the first game and could fill in the blanks yourself.
Second were the pathetically tiny skill trees that don’t offer any mutually exclusive skill paths or any other significant build choices you normally find in other games with RPG mechanics. Your choice when leveling up amount to selecting which character you want to award with the new skill, but don’t worry about only being able to buff up one of the three characters. It wouldn’t take a lot of work to complete all three skill trees (or at least pick all the really good skills) long before the game ends because the items you collected to earn level ups are hidden (most of the time not very well) everywhere; furthermore the amount you need to level up is fixed at 50. The only thing that keeps the system from being completely laughable is the fact that later skills require two or three level up points to purchase, but even having to collect 150 items is a breeze and only lengthens the duration between level ups rather than increasing the difficulty or forcing hard choices.
All in all, however, despite the issues I had, I thoroughly enjoyed Trine 2 and would recommend it whole heartedly to anyone looking for a beautiful, fun, and fairly casual game to enjoy with friends or family members but doesn’t want to pay the 60 bucks that comes with a full retail release.