I’ve played through all of the Trine games so far, and I always thought they were an interesting case study in terms of games I’ve enjoyed. They were always very charming… but I’m unsure about how consistently good any of them actually were, gameplay-wise. In the first two games, I thought the physics felt loose, the puzzles frequently seemed a little bit too simple, and the mechanics of the game never seemed to take full advantage of what the characters could do. When I would solve the aforementioned easy puzzles, I would think to myself, was I supposed to do it that way; did I just forge a clever use of the physics, or was that just some unexpected exploitation that didn’t occur to the developers? Could this combat system have a bit more depth, and could there be a few more enemies without hurting the pacing of the game? I’m not sure, but hey, I’m having fun.
In Trine 3, that sense endures, but as with the first two games, the overwhelming charm plows over the moments of doubt, and I find myself smiling much more than furrowing my brow. In a way, Trine is and has always been about evoking the pure joy of a classic fantasy setting. The series lends a childlike sense of wonderment accomplished through its visual design, bed-time story narrative and simple gameplay. It’s akin to the sensation one may have gotten when read a childhood story about far away castles, magic and dragons.
In this way, Trine 3 is very familiar. The charm and loose fun is still there. Players will make their way through gorgeously rendered linear levels. They will be awed by crisp graphics and vivid, popping colors that are rarely seen shimmering out of today’s games. They will switch between heroes; sometimes at will, sometimes as necessary to deal with certain situations. As before, the levels are paced well, primarily with two-parts puzzles, and one-part combat. Familiar mechanics return. Zoya is back to grapple onto things and shoot arrows. Amadeus once again conjures boxes from thin air and maneuvers them into awkward positions via telekinesis. Pontius, ever dutiful, smacks stuff with his sword, and occasionally, blocks and repels things with his shield. The characters do have a few new tricks up their sleeve related to the new perspective. Most obviously, Amadeus can now move his shimmering crates to-and-fro on the Z axis. Zoya can now wrap her lasso around objects and attach the opposite ends to anchor points, paving the way for some clever solutions to the game’s puzzles. Pontius can reflect projectiles with his shield at various angles, slamming fireballs back into enemies and forcing down cracked walls by redirecting boulders freshly sprung from traps.
Thanks to a new ability added to each of the new characters, all are more diversely useful for the various set pieces presented in the Trine games. Amadeus, once practical for puzzles and not much else, has had his combat effectiveness drastically increased by an added ability to slam levitated objects down onto enemy’s heads with the press of a designated smash button. Zoya, still queen of mobility, is more able to contribute to both combat and puzzles with her added tether skill. Pontius is now able to maintain a presence on the physics puzzle stage by smashing his considerable bulk down onto a surface via a new butt-stomp attack. These three simple changes lead to a great sense of flexibility which allows the player to feel that they can approach the game more heavily within the confines of their own play style preference.
Where Trine 3 makes its largest attempt at something new is its rendering technique. It takes the good ol’ 2.5D engine, and tacks on the extra point-five, though still with a fixed-camera perspective. The effect is reminiscent of the recent Super Mario 3D Land games for Wii U. However, I would venture to say that this game is still very side-scroller-centric, despite the new look. Oh, there is depth, to be sure. The first intro stage with Pontius, in particular, does a great job of showcasing the wonderful things this engine can do with the Z-plane, but the game still feels very funneled; very left-to-right. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is an interesting take.
In relation to the new camera, the control is relatively solid but the 3D effect makes things a bit janky. There can be a severe lack of visual cues of where exactly the character is in time and space when making platform jumps from the background into the foreground, and vice versa. Also, it isn’t always entirely clear what is meant to be an intended path of traversal for the player. Overall, the new design works, but moments of frustration with the viewpoint are frequent enough to warrant a mention.
In contrast to all the welcome returning features and significant improvements, there are some confusing omissions. Notably absent is the ability/equipment progression system from Trine 2, which was a welcome evolution over the first Trine. It’s difficult to tell if it was a design choice, or if the system was nixed due to the runaway timeline and budget that the developers have recently been so vocal about in defense of the game’s length.
Speaking of which, I write this review being well aware of the controversy surrounding this game. I must admit – the game IS pretty short. Damn short. I sought to even the playing field by checking my play times for the first two Trines. I was surprised to see I had spent approximately ten hours on the first game, and almost twenty on the second, though the latter is likely due to completionist compulsions I had at the time, and the goblin-themed expansion which was later released for it.
It almost pains me to admit that I spent a mere five hours on Trine 3, and I most certainly was not even remotely trying to speedrun it. I was taking my time with a leisurely playthrough. I even shared some levels for rounds of co-op with a friend who was over a few days throughout the ordeal. Also worth mentioning is the fact that I picked the game up and put it down a lot. This was due to a singular type of insanity; one which compelled me to create this gaming website in tandem with the fall semester of college, and meanwhile shit continues to hover just inches above the fan blades at my full-time job. Even with all these factors, the game barely broke the cinco mark. Placing these facts up against the developer’s claim that there should be about six-seven hours of gameplay, “maybe less” if trying to speedrun, I can understand why some would be angry.
Although I must admit that the complaints about the length and stunted development could be well-founded, I’m having trouble mustering the will to complain about it. Maybe it’s just because I played the game in chunks, because of my attention being split between so many things lately, but I did not feel like the coaster car had gone flying off the end of the tracks. It did stop rather abruptly, no doubt, but I felt I got my Trine fix. If I pined sorely for anything, it would have been to have seen the story continued. Unfortunately, the developers have stated that the backlash to Trine 3’s perceived shortcomings has caused them to question the future of the series. That would be a damn shame.
All in all, Trine 3 is a flawed, but enjoyable game. Although short, I do believe it is worth your time and money. I can’t throw my voice in with the haters for this particular title because I can’t find my sense of anger about the faults. Any nitpick which could be levied is present, to some degree, in the previous games as well – but as always, Trine overcomes with charm, imagination, and good old fashioned fun.