Rule of Threes

Trine the game is clever and polished enough to win over even the most die-hard haters of jumping puzzles (e.g. me).

Trine is a beautiful physics-based platform game from Finnish developer Frozenbyte. It’s out for PC on Steam now, and the claim is that it’s on its way to the PlayStation Network if you’ve got a PS3.

Somewhat like my reaction to playing Fable 2, playing the Trine demo gave me an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. My first thought was that it reminds me of a game I didn’t even realize I’d been missing, but that’s not quite correct: it reminds me of a game I always believed I vehemently hated.

What with my poor motor skills, I’ve got very, very low patience for jumping puzzles: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time gets away with it because it added undo; the Mario games win on charm, of course, as well as the promise of turning Mario into some wacky animal; and Half-Life 2 and Portal can get away with it because they are Half-Life 2 and Portal.

Trine is all about jumping puzzles, but it won me over because it’s just a beautiful game, and it builds its physics-based jumping puzzles around layered mechanics that are all extremely well-balanced. It gets compared to Lost Vikings a lot, because it’s based on three characters with unique abilities stuck in a platformer. I never played that one for very long, but the similarities between it and Trine are only on the surface: this is very much a modern, systems-based game. No one thing in the game stands out as remarkable, which isn’t at all an insult: everything is extremely well done and integrated, balanced, and polished. It’s a compliment to the level design that it holds its own and doesn’t devolve into being “just another platformer, but with pretty backgrounds.”

Having three different classes isn’t a new concept, even if you ignore Lost Vikings (and Gauntlet): the difference here is that the different characters all feel cool on their own. I could imagine being satisfied playing through the whole game without switching characters, and I’ve read online accounts of players doing exactly that. (For the record, I’m only halfway through the game at the moment). The Wizard’s telekinesis and ability to conjure blocks and planks lends itself perfectly to physics-based puzzles; the Thief’s grappling hook sets up all kinds of situations for Spider-Man-style navigation of the levels; and the sword-and-aimable-shield of the Warrior keeps the combat from devolving into button-mashing and just feels right.

I’m not crazy about the boss fights I’ve encountered so far, but they’re standard platformer material, and they’ve gone by quickly enough not to bother me. And I haven’t tried the multiplayer options; the video on the game’s website suggests all kinds of cool new possibilities when you throw cooperative multiplayer into the mix. Overall, you can feel all the time and effort that went into making the game and getting the balance and the level of polish just right. I would’ve supported it in any case, just because it’s such an impressive piece of work: the fact that it’s actually fun is a nice bonus.