‘Trine 4’ may have a low price tag, but it delivers surprising value for money.
Telling people you’ve bought Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince for the story is like claiming to buy Playboy for the articles–you’re lying to yourself. Luckily, and unlike the infamous men’s magazine, Trine 4 relies on much more than titillating gimmicks to make up for its lack of narrative drive: it’s got so much going for it, you’d be forgiven for ignoring the story entirely.
Unlikely comrades Amadeus the Wizard, Pontius the Knight and Zoya the Thief are once again reunited for their fourth adventure, where they “venture across expansive fairytale landscapes in search of Prince Selius, whose dark dreams have manifested in reality.” Selius needs to be found to restore peace and normality to the world before it’s “consumed by shadows”:
Trine 4 returns to the series’ 2.5D roots after Trine 3’s passable attempt at full 3D, overcoming its third-album syndrome by going back to doing what it does best: combining the ingenious abilities of its diverse and unique trio with a rapidly evolving, consistently exciting and perplexingly puzzling platformer.
It’s a stunning experience from the very start
Trine games have never lacked in the looks department, but Trine 4 really sets a new bar for the franchise. From the first moment you meet Amadeus in his snowy cottage, you’re treated to high-contrast, richly colored vistas that unfurl effortlessly to the distant horizon.
From the first moment of ‘Trine 4’, you’ll be captivated.
While the wider platform genre continues to deliver incredibly beautiful experiences, Trine 4 never fails to make you smile with its sharp looks, clever lighting and inventive, wistful world. Each new level brings a different, carefully curated landscape with a lush palette, and you soon find yourself looking forward to what’s coming next.
Controls are as tight as you’ll get in a 2.5D platformer
While there are certain teething problems with the control system–particularly for me with Amadeus’ possession ability in the early levels–you soon find yourself settling into what’s actually a very simple, uncomplicated experience. Special abilities are added periodically, from ice and fire arrows to multiple boxes, but these complement your base move sets. Given three characters are regularly juggled and often all used to solve riddles, this maintenance of simplicity is a godsend.
What’s more, character movement is responsive and exact. Trine 4 is not a game that hurries you through solutions or requires ridiculous accuracy to get through its challenges, so I’d let it slide if it its gameplay was less precise–but you always feel in control, giving you that inevitable double-edged sword of incredible elation when successful, and eye-rolling frustration when you’re not.
Puzzle design is inspired and constantly challenging
Like other best-in-class modern platformers (I’m looking at you, Ori and the Blind Forest), Trine 4 adopts a progressive approach when introducing new mechanics or skills. But it’s never as simple as giving you a new ability, then slowly making you learn its finer points before bringing all elements together; sometimes, it’ll throw a curveball that’ll leave you stumped, making eventual progression ever more satisfying.
Standard, in-level puzzles will regularly keep you on your toes, but less forgiving are the off-the-beaten-track, hidden “bonus room”-style challenges. It’s with these that the game pushes your inventiveness to its limits, even though upon completion, you’ll regularly wonder how the hell you didn’t solve each puzzle immediately.
The puzzle rooms in ‘Trine 4’ offer some of the most satisfying challenges in the game.
It’s a completionist’s dream
Trine 4 operates a simple quintet of collectables that provide a constant feeling of achievement throughout the game:
- Experience vials, spent on upgrading skills;
- Stars from battles, which unlock said skills for purchase;
- Letters, which provide story exposition;
- Treasures, to reward you completing difficult puzzles; and
- Knicknacks, which combine lore and in-jokes but are otherwise just collectables.
Their importance is further reflected in achievements and trophies; each one is related to story completion or experience collection, save for three achievements for all letters, treasures and knicknacks. They’re perfectly attainable, too; some might not be collectable until your skill tree is fully developed, but most are missed by not exploring every nook and cranny of a level, which Trine 4 constantly encourages you to do.
Both skills and upgrades are unlocked as you collect experience and stars.
Above all else, experience vials are the most valued currency in the game, to the point Trine 4 breaks down its chapters on a checkpoint basis to show whereabouts you’ve missed them. It makes revisiting levels exciting, because you’ll discover subtle puzzles, overcome misleading camera angles or apply new skills in exciting ways.
However, to put my breathless fawning on the backburner for a moment, it’s important to highlight the issues holding Trine 4 back from true greatness.
About that story…
A couple of hours into Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince, I found myself wondering if the game gets its name from the prince’s nightmares, or if it’s simply a description of how terrible his character, and the story built around him, is.
Admittedly, platformer fans have been spoiled rotten by the high quality of modern storylines. While I appreciate most games aren’t going to hit the heady heights of Ori and the Blind Forest’s Up-style heartbreaking scene-setting, Trine 4 certainly deserves more than an identikit prince with moody thoughts. Even halfway through the game, you’re don’t know why things are playing out like they are, and it feels like the writers don’t either.
This is often how deep the story in ‘Trine 4’ gets.
It’s not just limited to an underperforming story–the “banter” between Amadeus, Pontius and Zoya can really drag. Trine 4 starts strong with its character building, with charming individual introductory passages for each character in the first act–notably Pontius, who’s like a bigger, bolder and brasher version of Final Fantasy IX’s Adelbert Steiner.
However, it soon loses its spark. The voice acting isn’t bad, per se; it can just drag. So Amadeus has a new outfit, great. Zoya finds it hilarious for reasons unknown, so harps on about it for a couple of minutes of laugh-free trouser talk. I’ve also never heard less enthusiasm from three eccentrics riding a giant eagle. At least the game looks pretty, and you can mute it if the chatter gets interminable.
Battles feel tacked on and forced
I’m putting it out there: Trine 4 doesn’t need battles. While this might have something to do with the indifference I feel towards the shadowy “threats” posed by the whiny prince, the puzzle gameplay is enough to carry the game–while the lackluster fight sequences only seem serve the purpose of unlocking new abilities for your characters.
Battles in ‘Trine 4’ feel unnecessary.
Here’s what’ll happen: you’ll get to a point where traces of purple smoke appear on the landscape. Once you hit the central point of the battle’s screen, you’re treated to a Smash Bros-esque platform fighter, had it been designed by Prince and the Revolution. You’ll then switch to Pontius, get up in baddies’ grills and repeatedly smack them about the face until they die. Occasionally, you’ll switch to Zoya to pick them off from a distance. Once you’re done, you collect obligatory stars. Job done.
The problem is, these sections aren’t particularly difficult, and they’re all the easier when you realize Pontius can still flail his sword around while hanging from a platform’s edge. These sections also make boss sections feel underwhelming, too. Again, they’re not particularly hard, but lose their intended grandeur because of the precedent-setting skirmishes that precede them.
Bosses provide a fun challenge, but feel undermined by standard in-game fights.
It’s on the short side
While the puzzles can often stump you, and the opportunity to revisit levels to specific checkpoints to get 100% completion is more than enough reason to get plenty out of the game, Trine 4 is short. You’ll soon find yourself halfway through Act III wondering how things moved on so quickly.
To its credit, the Trine series has always been launched at a low price and has consistently offered six-to-eight hours of playtime per title, but given the leaps the franchise has made in its fourth outing, I definitely felt I could’ve done with another act or two of action, especially as there’s no chance of diluting the story any further than it already has been.
You’ll get every cent out of Trine 4
For all its foibles, Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is a brilliant platformer at heart, and the best of the series so far. What it lacks in story and combat is more than made up for by tight gameplay, inspired puzzles, beautiful, sharp and color-rich visuals, alongside a wondrous soundtrack. For $29.99 RRP, it’s fantastic value, so long as you’re willing to explore every avenue it throws your way
The art direction of ‘Trine 4’ is almost always stunning to behold.
On top of that, while my lonesome playthrough reflects what you’ll come to expect from a single-player campaign, you can enjoy the experience with friends through both couch co-op and online. If you can let me know what it’s like (by which I mean both Trine 4 multiplayer, or having actual friends), I’m all ears–but I can only imagine it’ll add another excellent dimension to a brilliant core experience.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince in exchange for a fair and honest review.