Playing Trine is like savoring a sumptuous souffle and allowing your taste buds to separate the hint of cognac from the dash of orange-zest. Trine is a terrific game in its own right, but half the fun is seeing how Finnish indie developer Frozenbyte assembled its familiar ingredients to cook up such a tasty, yet original, concoction.
Here's how lead designer Lauri Hyvärinen describes the game:
That's an apt description, but it only hints at the genre alchemy that makes Trine so interesting. At first glance, the game looks like a high-def version of Odin Sphere with its luscious 2-D art style. That comparison slips, however, when you notice the steampunk elements and psychedelic mushrooms.
As a colorful side-scrolling platformer, Trine's whimsical roots in Mario games are easily seen, but its hack and slash gameplay links it more closely to Golden Axe. That is, until you realize some of your toughest obstacles aren't trying to kill you; they're blocking your path. So it's a bit of Mario with a skewed Odin Sphere art style meets Golden Axe meets Lost Vikings. But wait, there's more! (We miss you Billy Mays.)
Trine is a heavily physics-based platformer that shines most brightly in co-op mode. If you enjoyed Little Big Planet but found it not "game-y" enough, Trine may be just your cup of tea. Trine delivers LBP's sense of real-world movement (manipulating weighty objects, swinging on ropes, etc.) with a bit less floatiness than LBP. More importantly, all this jumping and swinging around supports gameplay that feels more aggressive and less whimsical than LBP. Co-op in Trine varies significantly because players have differing abilities, but both games place a premium on working together...and occasionally shouting, blaming, and apologizing. Both also share a sardonic narrator with an English accent.
We're not done yet. Trine also employs a Diablo-esque action role-playing system of collecting loot, leveling up, character classes, and managing spells and equipment. You play as one of three characters (switchable at any time): a wizard, knight, and thief, each possessing unique skills. One of the most notable design elements of Trine is the multiple creative possibilities for proceeding through each level. If your wizard dies, you must figure out how to get by without his special abilities.
But wait. I hear you saying "I like this Mario / Odin Sphere / Golden Axe / Lost Vikings / Little Big Planet / Diablo mashup idea, but could I also have a dash of Crayon Physics with a smidge of Okami in my Trine?" No worries, my friend. The good 20-person design team at Frozenbytes has you covered. The wizard can create physical objects out of thin air simply by drawing them. These can be used to overcome environmental obstacles...or you can drop them on the heads of skeleton zombies.
Did I mention the Thief's grappling hook works just like it does in Zelda?
If, like me, you fancy yourself an amateur video game anthropologist, Trine (pronounced like 'mine') is a mini-compendium of genre and gameplay from the last 25 years. To its credit, the game also stands firmly on its own, weaving together its disparate strands remarkably well. I encourage you to give the game a go (demo available on Steam, coming soon to PS3) and, if you can, find two other people to join you. For your neighbors' sake, try to keep the shouting to a minimum.