Trine 4 : The Nightmare Prince Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox One, PC and Nintendo Switch
After a divisive third entry in the series, Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince seeks to rediscover the magic that captivated fans in the first place. With a dreamlike fluidity to the gameplay, breathtaking fantasy environments, and a giant box-load of new physics-based puzzles, this co-op platformer's return to 2.5D is at times a mesmerising experience that challenges in all the right ways. But while its puzzles and platforming can be a work of pure sorcery, can it cast the same spell over the rest of the game?
The young Prince Selius is plagued by nightmares, and his developing magic is too weak to prevent these visions from escaping into the living world. The reunited heroes of Trine are put on a quest to chase Selius, calm him down and save the world from being consumed entirely by manifestations of his dark dreams.
Like the diffuse pools of light that so gracefully illuminate the darker recesses of Trine’s environments, the narration of this story provides a warmth and kindness as a counterpoint to sweeten its cold tale of fears. Even for newcomers to the series, Trine 4 feels like an adventure with old friends from the start, as the opening cutscene invites you into the cozy home of Amadeus the Wizard. Stepping outside onto his balcony, you’ll see the first of many of the game’s picturesque landscapes, a view of snow-capped mountains, inhabited by creatures and underscored with gentle music.
In turn we’re introduced to Pontius the Knight and Zoya the Thief, each tutorial stage similarly providing a spotlight for their backstories and abilities. It’s clear from the opening act of the game that its presentation is impeccable when it comes to storytelling and graphics. As you venture from Craghill Moors, through dreams to the inner sanctuaries of the Astral Academy, everything is lit by a soft glow that makes the game gorgeous to look at.
As for the gameplay itself, Trine 4 lures you into an almost hypnotic flow when it hits its stride in the second act, achieved in part by the synergy of its three character classes and the interplay of their unique skills. The wizard conjures and levitates objects such as boxes, balls and ramps. The thief shoots arrows and tethers ropes to hooks to swing from or form bridges. The knight has a shield to deflect light, water and projectiles; a sword for cutting through branches; and a number of other headstrong actions that can be used to smash things. There’s a real refinement to the control of the characters, and the multiplayer modes adapt the game’s puzzles to make the most of these dynamic abilities.
Each character also has a skill tree. Mandatory skills unlock at fixed points in the adventure, and these each feel like game-changers, as puzzles constantly evolve in complexity to make use of your increasing array of skills. For instance, one puzzle involves reviving a thirsty plant. When the knight acquires his magic shield, he is then able to leave its ghost in place to redirect a stream of water. Similarly, the thief’s bow can eventually shoot elemental arrows to freeze platforms, enemies and features of the environment, and the wizard learns to conjure new and more useful objects as the game progresses. This light-RPG style progression delivers constant surprises, and opens up plenty of opportunities for creative puzzle-solving.
By searching for hidden areas, you can also find additional EXP in the form of purple vials, and these allow you to unlock an optional subset of skills that each relates in some way to one of the main ones. Collectible letters flesh out the backstory of the characters, while acquiring parts of secret objects leads to surprises elsewhere. Teasing you with subtle camera movements or weak-looking walls , Trine 4 compels you to explore its levels thoroughly, leaving no stone unturned in a search for its best hidden secrets.
Matching the flexibility of movement, Trine 4 uses a physics engine that provides enough elasticity to manipulate objects freely without them getting out of your control. More often than not, you can anticipate how an object will react if you suspend it on a rope, for instance, or balance it between two columns. Rather than having to rely on pure experimentation, this allows you to think through puzzles logically before putting your theories into practise.
If a box hits another object and goes askew, rotating it with a single press of the d-pad will snap it back to one of the eight directions, and this magnetism keeps the system from ever getting too frustrating. Physics-based puzzles are notorious for creating too much ambiguity in their movement, often challenging you in ways the developers never intended. In another game, what should have rolled an inch or so along the ground suddenly becomes an insane and unpredictable wheel as it goes spinning across the screen in defiance of gravity. Not in Trine. Given other attempts at these sorts of puzzles by like-minded games, Trine 4 does a miraculous job at handling the physics, in turn doing justice to the already smooth flow of gameplay.
Unfortunately, though the magic of Trine envelops its presentation, platforming and puzzles, it doesn’t always extend to the combat scenarios. And while the actions of characters and controls in combat are very satisfying, the game doesn’t present enough compelling reasons to use them all throughout its 18 levels. Bosses, in particular, may be interesting from a narrative perspective (especially for long-time fans), as we face the fears and anxieties of the main characters, but they’re often underwhelming when it comes to the gameplay itself.
To make each boss a self-contained puzzle feels in-keeping with the game’s wider philosophy, but they’re simply not challenging enough to test your brain power. In addition, the actions of the bosses are often slow and laboured to the extent that it takes away from their menace, and what should have been a climactic battle can leave you with the feeling: is that it? Having said this, it doesn’t detract too much from the overall experience, but it’s frustrating given that the game’s revamped combat has the potential to be really amazing.
Aside from the bosses, the combat takes place in closed arena-style battles, designed in the vein of old school arcade games. Temporary platforms make for short, intense and claustrophobic battles with a handful of enemies who’ll shoot projectiles, teleport and attack you head on. These fare better than the bosses, in that they’re exciting and change up the gentle pace of the platforming and puzzles. Still, they suffer somewhat from a lack of variety with few enemy types and some uninspired designs. Displaying elemental weaknesses in block colours seems to be a priority here, but this comes at the expense of detail and character that could otherwise make them feel individual.
Despite these few reservations, I really was captivated by the flow of gameplay throughout the experience, and these hiccups did little to affect my overall enjoyment. And while I didn’t get much opportunity to test the online multiplayer, couch co-op suits Trine 4 perfectly. Single player may not be the focus, but it still holds its own. By providing an adaptive set of puzzles that changes depending on the number of players means fewer compromises to either experience.
Multiplayer is also split further into two modes. Whereas Unlimited mode allows up to 4 players to switch characters at any time creating any combination of heroes, Classic mode tests up to 3 players to play with a fixed party composed of all three characters. While the latter may be the purest way to experience Trine 4, Unlimited seems to offer the most flexibility and dynamic play. As well as its many secrets and endless solutions to puzzles, offering these different ways to play brings additional longevity to the game.
Taking the DNA of classic puzzler Lost Vikings and throwing in a whole host of innovative physics puzzles to the mix, the Trine series has managed to reinvent the wheel and carve a unique spot in the legion of platformers currently available. The latest entry is a gorgeous side-scroller whose fluidity of play, innovative puzzles and enchanting atmosphere can't help but cast a spell on the player. The interplay between the three character classes coupled with the robust physics makes this a co-op game like no other, and despite the sometimes underwhelming combat, it is for the most part a dreamlike experience that'll have you levitating objects and casting ropes in your sleep.
- Playstation 4
- Xbox One