Demo Driver 8: Trine (#212)

I'd actually like her better if she had the wizard's abilities.  And the fighter's.  Wait, I've just recreated a roleplaying character.  Darn.

The thief, to almost no one’s surprise, is my favorite.

It seems really odd to me that for all of the things that Blizzard Entertainment has done over the years, we’ve never gotten any sort of further development of The Lost Vikings.  Maybe not necessarily in the same setting – I wouldn’t be surprised if the Interplay thing has tied up publishing rights or whatever – but it seems like something natural to update, you know?  There’s a market for this sort of puzzle game, and as much as Blizzard has earned its reputation over the past few years as an obstinate behemoth, it’d be a good way to remind everyone just how clever the company can be.

Not that the concept hasn’t been explored in other places.  I bring all of this up because today’s demo, Trine, explores the same fundamental conceit.  To wit: you are placed in control of three different characters with three different sets of abilities, and it’s up to you as the player to guide all three of them through a level.  It masquerades as a platform game, but this is a puzzle game, as surely as Portal 2 or Tetris or Braid.

I would like to say a bit more about the game's co-op, but I didn't play the game in co-op because I am an unlovable isolated dork.  And my wife was not home.

I’m on a magical floating block. I’m on a magical – whoa-oh – floating block.

The plot, as it were, is somewhere between “excuse plot” and “just enough to work,” as it’s relayed largely by narration with a faintly storybook quality.  A kingdom is overrun by the undead, the Thief sneaks in to try and steal something, and the Wizard and Knight wind up almost inadvertently getting involved.  This leads to all three being absorbed into the eponymous Trine, a relic that binds three souls together and functionally allows all three characters to exist in the same place.  You proceed along the level, swapping characters as you progress, using each one’s unique abilities to overcome obstacles.

Curiously, the characters don’t seem to have much individual weight to them; I can think of a few times when I found myself thinking that I should switch to the Thief, but she doesn’t seem much more nimble on her feet than the plate-wearing Knight or the robed Wizard.  The real differences appear to be in abilities, each mapped to the mouse buttons.  The Thief can shoot her bow or fire a grappling hook; the Knight swings his sword or raises his shield; the Wizard conjures boxes or levitates items.  What makes the whole thing challenging is dealing with puzzles that require all three to work in concert.

How well does it manage that?  Well, the demo shows off the introductory level and the first “real” level, and it does… adequately.  Mostly it comes down to using the Knight for killing the skeletons that crop up whilst the Thief and Wizard do all of the heavy lifting on puzzles; this would be more annoying if combat wasn’t rather concisely but satisfyingly handled.  Enemies are not stupid, and have a few nasty lunges that make “swing constantly” a poor strategy without relying upon split-second block timing.  It’s also possible and even advantageous at times to dispatch enemies through other means – dropping a large brick on a skeleton is just as useful as trading sword slices.

As you might have guessed, this is a physics-based outing, and as a result it has that vaguely wobbly quality I usually associate with these games.  You know how it is, where objects sitting at rest don’t seem to quite rest the way things do in the real world and everything has the structural integrity of a cardboard house in a rainstorm.  Fortunately, this quality is minimized by only having a few objects in any given area be mobile or destroyable or whatever; unfortunately, this does mean that a lot of items in the game sort of stand out.  “YOU CAN MOVE ME,” the platform declares, “SO I WILL BE USED IN A PUZZLE HERE.”

I mean, by definition everything in the game is a puzzle, but… oh, never mind, moving on.

I'm opting not to talk about the Thief's design because my time on this planet is short and I have much more I would like to achieve before it ends.

And a lifetime supply of arrows.

At least in the demo, the puzzles are fairly simple; there’s no hint of the dizzying complexity you see in games like the aforementioned Braid, for example.  It’s a simple question of a door that’s out of reach every time and a struggle to get there with the objects provided.  To the game’s credit, however, the vast majority of these puzzles are quite straightforward, taking about as long to solve as they take to figure out.  This is not a game in which you’ll puzzle out the solution and then generally spend another hour trying to actually make it happen.

I say “generally” simply because… well, physics-based, platformer, puzzle, you know there’s going to be some reflex challenges in there.  The jumping controls, though, feel a bit floaty, which resulted in at least one puzzle taking a bit longer just because of the mechanics of getting a character to jump the right way.  Annoying.  It’s possible that this becomes far more common in later levels, although I’d like to hope not.

The first level is long enough to put the concept through its paces, which is welcome; rather than winding up with something half-explored, you have puzzles that show up, require you to work through their logic, and then depart before they’ve worn out their welcomes.  Which is the ultimate challenge in any sort of puzzle game, to provide an interesting hurdle but not one that’s frustrating to mount.

One surmises that this is a running theme in the game.  While I didn’t see it in the demo, the game promises upgradable abilities and the like, which usually keeps the balance of content skewed toward hurdles rather than fiendishly ornate mind-traps of puzzles.  And despite some floaty bits here and there, some slight missteps, I sat down to play the demo and enjoyed myself enough to go looking for more before I realized that I had, in fact, hit the end.  Charming, simple, and fun at a glance, it seems poised to justify its rather meager $10 price tag, and there’s already a sequel available if you play through it and find yourself in need of more.

Although really, would it have broken the bank to get a voice actress for the Thief?  Kind of an obvious kludge there.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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