Trine is a series that could have stopped at a trilogy. There are only so many times people can come back to the same story, characters and basic format before it all outstays its welcome. At least, that would be true if Trine 3 hadn’t happened. As it turns out, taking your 2.5D puzzle-platformer expertise and applying it to the realm of 3D is never a guaranteed success, and so a noble attempt at shaking up the formula wound up an unfortunate misstep. Thankfully, developer Frozenbyte have been given something of a do-over in Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince; a game that makes a seriously good case for its existence by providing the very best version of the series’ classic gameplay yet, and by not being Trine 3.
That’s right, Trine 4 takes the series back to its 2.5D roots, and it does a fantastic job of building on the first two games’ foundations. Amadeus, Zoya and Pontius are back; their carefree, post-heroism lives disrupted by an urgent plea for help that sees them reunited once again. Reprising their roles as a wizard, a thief and a knight, they’ll once again need to work together and use their unique abilities to traverse lengthy, side-scrolling levels full of tricky physics puzzles and the occasional battle against fearsome creatures. This time around, the trio are chasing a runaway prince whose dreams (and nightmares, hence the title) are manifesting in the real world and causing chaos. If you’ve played the series before, you’ll know exactly the kind of satisfying puzzle experience you’re in for. You’ll also be acutely aware of how little the story really matters in these games, save for the refreshingly funny dialogue. The same goes again here, although the dream/nightmare-based plot device brings with it some cool, new gameplay ramifications.
Untitled Bear Game (2019)
Whether you’re playing solo and manually switching between each of the three characters, or playing with friends and working together in real time, the puzzles in Trine 4 are an absolute blast. Using Amadeus to summon and levitate a steel ball to then have Zoya attach it to the ceiling with her ropes and Pontius fling it wrecking ball-style into a fragile wall is as gratifying to figure out as it is to pull off. That’s one, simple example though, and the game does a great job of repeating a puzzle concept until it becomes second nature before expanding on it enough that it’s a fresh challenge all over again. It’s something the series has always done well, but the pacing and the curve of the challenge are seriously on point here. There are some great new wrinkles to the core gameplay too, mostly stemming from the story’s main gimmick; the titular ‘Nightmare Prince’s dreams crossing over into the real world. What this means for gameplay is that Frozenbyte have had the opportunity to get a little more creative and left-of-field with levels and character abilities. Amadeus doesn’t benefit as much, already being a wizard, but Zora and Pontius get some cool new tricks like elemental arrows and ethereal shields that really up the puzzle variety even more. Combine those with ideas like Portal-style portals and magical light beams and things get really interesting.
Perhaps most impressive is the way each puzzle in Trine 4 has multiple versions tailored to any combination of players from one to four, including being able to play as the same character multiple times. It’s wizardry, pun wholeheartedly intended. Playing solo and manually switching between the three characters to solve each piece of a problem in turn is easy and relatively painless (unless you’re like me and have a habit of hitting the wrong buttons all the time). With more players, everything changes from being pure problem solving to also requiring a nice amount of coordination and timing, making both experiences feel unique and valid. No matter how you play, there’s ample opportunity to ‘cheese’ puzzles by exploiting the game’s physics, which is actually more satisfying than you’d think. The only slightly disappointing aspect of gameplay is the combat which, while less intrusive than previous games, still lacks depth and does nothing to add to the overall experience. The game would honestly be better without it. Boss battles are hit or miss; there are some great bosses that make good use of game mechanics but for every one of those there’s a boring, toothless encounter that goes on too long.
With a Hollywood movie on the way, Sonic could finally afford a nice retirement
The Trine games have always been quite beautiful to behold, and Trine 4 is no exception. It’s handsome as hell, and puts pretty much every other 2.5D platformer to shame. Lush environments packed with detail stretch off so far into the background that it almost hurts to only be able to move on two planes. Lighting, animation and special effects all convey the setting wonderfully. Again, the story sets Frozenbyte up to get even more creative than usual, resulting in some great, ethereal level designs and a lot of abstract flair. I only wish the game’s music showed the same effort and creativity. Everything that’s there is just fine, but repeated so often that it gets old fast. By the halfway point I’d taken to queuing up a Spotify playlist full of other game’s soundtracks to listen to instead. Far from a deal breaker, but definitely a sore spot in an otherwise compelling package.
I didn’t know how much I wanted Trine 4 until I played it. For a series that I assumed had run its course it does a damned commendable job of making a case for its existence, surpassing previous entries while also acting as a great first entry for newcomers. Although I’d argue that removing combat entirely would make for a better game, and I wish more attention had been paid to the musical score, this is by far the best Trine game yet.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher