It’s fortuitous that a game so uncomplicated and unpretentious should appear in the final month of the year. Like a payload of weapons-grade charm, Trine 2 drops into the constant background cynicism that surrounds gaming. Playing it feels like a palette cleanser, the perfect way to refresh for the whole new gamut of games awaiting in us in 2012. It helps that it’s really quite good.
The set up will be familiar to anyone who played the original (for familiar, read: exactly the same). Three heroes – the brashly heroic Knight (sword and shield for combat, hammer for general biffing), the cowardly Wizard (environment manipulation and crate creation), and the aloof Thief (bow, arrow and grappling hook, and therefore unquestionably the best) – are bonded to the mysterious Trine and once again sent on a quest to save the kingdom, for a reason that has something to do with giant pumpkins. The Trine causes the heroes to occupy one body (except in cutscenes and during co-op – I did say it was mysterious), so you’ll switch between the three constantly, juggling their abilities to overcome the various puzzles and enemies.
While it may not deviate too far from the ground laid by its predecessor, Trine 2 has a number of improvements – most notably the puzzles you’ll encounter. Armed with the knowledge that the most complicated of Trine 1′s puzzles involved levitating a crate into ceiling spikes so the Thief could grapple across, I arrogantly set the game to “No Hints” mode. Within a few levels I’d found an area that had me stumped, desperately trying all manner of unlikely interactions to create a valid path.
There’s less reliance on the Wizard as the sole puzzling class, with many of the challenges arising from the environment instead. Water, fire, air-flows and the now obligatory-for-a-puzzle-game portals all feature and require you to utilise each class’ strengths to work towards a solution. Portals may need positioning so that the thief can fire an arrow through an impossible angle, water can be diverted to ‘enchanted’ saplings, creating new organic platforms, and pipes can be levitated and slotted together to redirect the air. Those are just the basics, the actual puzzles require an increasingly complex series of tasks and logical steps to complete.
Should you become completely stuck, there’s always the brute force method of stacking crates and spamming the grappling hook. But where in Trine 1 that was entire point, here it seems messy and comes with the nagging feeling that there’s a more elegant solution if only you were clever enough to spot it. More problematically, exploits that existed in the first game are still present. While playing through co-op mode, we encountered a pipe section that had us stuck for long minutes. Eventually I discovered the Thief could latch on to a bit of scenery off to the right, using the improbable angle to be dragged face first up the wall to success. A total fudge – and borderline cheating – but at least it got us to where we needed to be.
Assuming you’re not a blithering idiot, though, the shift in focus away from relying on a specific class makes the co-op mode a marked improvement. Instead of just waiting for the Wizard to create his solution and ferry the other players back and forth, each player can actively help manipulate the world to your needs. This is also a feature of the combat, where the interaction between abilities creates an enjoyable sense of camaraderie when dealing with the enemies. The Wizard can now lift foes helplessly off the ground for the Knight to bat around with his sword, and the Thief’s new ice arrows freeze enemies for the other classes to shatter.
When soloing through the game, these interactions encourage you to be continually switching classes mid-combat. The fights are undeniably just padding, quickening the pace with a few waves of goblins between the slower puzzles. But despite the grind, the flow that your three sets of abilities create keep it enjoyable throughout.
The commitment to keeping the classes broadly on a par with each other has also led to the removal of some features. Magical artifacts, which granted stat bonuses to health and strength, as well as abilities like underwater breathing, are gone. Secret chests now contain only artwork and poems (which allude to a plot twist so obvious, the only surprise it delivers is that the characters are surprised by it). On the one hand this means no one character can be power-levelled to destroy the balance, but its also problematic. The puzzles to reach the hidden chests and experience vials are some of the hardest in the game, but for the rewards they offer it’s rarely worth spending the extra effort.
But the minor weaknesses throughout are easy to forgive in the presence of a world that’s so sublime. While the plot can accurately be described as paper-thin guff, one result of its enchanted forest tale is the giant snails, frogs and plants that appear throughout add a fantastic sense of wonderment to proceedings. Multiple times I found myself taken aback by the visual spectacle – not in the epic, high-production sense that has, in some ways, defined the year’s big releases, but in the sheer vibrancy and colour of the world it creates.
The danger of critiquing Trine 2 is it’s all too easy to lose the forest for the enchanted giant trees. The story may be bland fluff, the characters may be complete one-note cliched archetypes, but it all coalesces to create a tone that absolutely makes the game. It’s tongue-in-cheek – not in an oh-so-clever knowingly sarcastic way, but in a way that says, “yes, this is going to be cheesy. I dare you not to enjoy yourself anyway.” More than once I found myself chuckling along to a few lines of dialogue, not because it was particularly funny but because the warmth the game creates makes it impossible not be carried along. Or, to sum it up in a word: it’s lovely.