Review: Aesthetics and Gameplay Strike an Interesting, But Uneven Balance in "Trine 2"

Review: Aesthetics and Gameplay Strike an Interesting, But Uneven Balance in "Trine 2"

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

I’m always wary of games with as clear-cut an aesthetic agenda as Trine 2 suggests. A fairy-tale renaissance approach is hardly the most original setting, but wild jumps in its searing color palette makes its already sumptuous canvas pop in unexpected and beautiful ways. It’s one thing to say that designers want their creations to be visually pleasing; it’s another when a game like this one comes along, not so subtly voicing its intent to communicate a particular experience to whoever plays it.

In this case, it seems like the natural science of Trine’s world—or rather what we’ve been fooled to believe is such—is key in relaying that experience, since the game generally makes a habit of behaving as realistically as it looks. Simply, this can be observed in the way a massive jungle leaf droops downward when you jump on it. On a more complex level, you may need to levitate and stack some boxes and an old log to redirect the path of a forest stream, for example.

As in any puzzle platformer, gameplay is more of a challenge of navigating environmental space and obstacles (be prepared to encounter numerous seemingly impossible gaps) over just moving from one point to the next, so learning to leverage the world physics themselves is inevitable. And yet due to the somewhat static nature of Trine’s puzzle design all of it can still somehow feel a little ineffectual.

WITH OUR POWERS COMBINED…

Maybe the limited skillset Trine’s heroes bring to the table don’t always offer enough differing solutions in the environments presented. Apart from aesthetics, the level design could also perhaps benefit from a bit more variety.

As it stands, the wizard Amadeus can levitate objects and conjure boxes and planks; Zoya, the thief, has an unlimited sling of arrows and a grappling hook to swing across certain areas; Pontius the knight handles combat with a sword and shield combo (note that using MP has also been eliminated).

You’ll quickly get used to switching back and forth between them as new types of obstacles present themselves; the letdown here is that the process often becomes a “use character x for puzzle y” scenario.

Regardless of what dense forest, creepy witch’s lair or rain-withered castle you may find yourself in, puzzle mechanics don’t show much evolution. I found I kept returning to the same tricks—Amadeus was my go-to with his conjuring and makeshift stair-building skills, while Zoya and Pontius served more like support characters. That Trine’s design rarely challenged me to go outside those roles is both telling and a little disappointing.

SILVER LINING

A lot of Trine 2 is still enjoyable. Despite its linearity, there’s a sure sense of wonder in exploring such dynamically lavish landscape. The narrative is a throwaway, but the small, earnest characterizations afforded its characters can be delightful.

And though I could do with a few less impossible gaps and how-do-I-get-up-there puzzles, the occasions the design does break away from its puzzle-y norms present some real moments of sparing greatness. (Note for Trine 3: more deviations like using the fireflies to distract man-eating plants are a good start.)

Perhaps the biggest difference, and one I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, is the change co-op has on the game. Suddenly you’re not just thinking about how one character needs to progress, but how multiple players must. Working together and using simultaneous skills changes the feel and pacing immensely, alleviating some (not all) of the sameness found in single player. I only wish the puzzles had been changed in co-op mode.

For its faults, Trine 2 has character. Presented as an experimental interactive art project alone, it’d still be worth playing—luckily for us, there’s pretty decent game here, too. I can think of worse ways to cap the year.

Tags: trine-2, frozenbyte, atlus, puzzle-platformer
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