Trine 4 is filled with heartwarming moments in a rich puzzle-platforming adventure that feels like returning to an old story told in childhood.
Gathered in a dusty tavern, a group of weary travelers recline as a bard spins a yarn of a group of three heroes and their quest across the land. This fantastical and comfortable setting is the sort of one that Trine has created, ever since the first game released over 10 years ago. They’re games that echo the stories one might hear in an inn across from a mystical wood: light, filled with magic and adventure, and of course a happy ending. In a “return to form” in the series, Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is both a delightful Tolkien-like adventure and 2.5D puzzle platformer.
The first Trine game released in 2009 and (at the time) was a PC exclusive. It stood out from the tired pack of like games with its beautiful bio-luminescent visuals, rousing soundtrack of flutes and horns, and fun physics-based puzzles. From the beginning, it was never so simple as “flip this switch, pull that lever” and more about using the tools given to you to surmount a high ledge or bottomless pit. And as the games continued, so did the ambition of developers Frozenbyte. Trine 3 even took a stab at a fully 3-D game, and though it didn’t quite hit the mark, it showed fans their dedication to these joyous indie titles.
Like the games before them, Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is a feast for the senses. Levels pop with color, the light of the sun or moon cascading down waterfalls and shining into crystal caverns. Even when there is no puzzle or enemy blocking one’s path, you might often find yourself stopping to enjoy the scenery. This isn’t a platformer with any sense of urgency; even the story itself takes welcome meandering pauses over its 5 Acts. And the story itself is quite simple: the three heroes of Trine (a mystical force that binds them together, explaining a key component of gameplay – see below) are tasked with saving young Prince Selius from a magic that he cannot control. It’s a nice change of pace from apocalyptic world-ending stories that takes things to a small scale but still feels epic. Even when the writing veers into overly moralistic or trite territory, its always sweet.
Moments like the one pictured above, where you remove a spiked fruit from a bear’s claw, only to receive assistance from them throughout the level (in the form of moving obstacles) are part of what makes Trine 4 a breezy and joyful journey. While the majority of puzzles are solved using one of the three characters powers, the occasional environmental assistance is a new addition to this installment, and it colors the world perfectly.
Trine 4 (and its predecessors) have always made it so there are multiple ways to solve a puzzle using either Amadeus the Wizard, Pontius the Knight, or Zoya the Thief. They’re archetypes of medieval/fantastical stories, but their friendly personalities and short banter helps to give them new life. Of course, their powers help them stand out as well: Amadeus can summon cubes (and later balls and bridges) to help solve puzzles, as well as levitate certain objects. Pontius is best used when fighting the nightmares as his sword makes quick work of them; he also can use his shield to redirect light and water. Zoya’s bow and arrows are ideal for elemental puzzles and her grappling hook for soaring through the air.
If one is playing the game alone, they have the ability (through the aforementioned power of “Trine”) to switch between any of the three characters at any time. Create a cube as Amadeus, then hook it to a platform as Zoya to give yourself a step up. Or freeze an enemy with her arrows to later have Pontius slash them to oblivion. If you opt to play in online or couch multiplayer (offering up to 4 players, a first for the series) then you’ll choose one character and stick to them. This does make some puzzles significantly easier to solve, so they’re often reworked for this experience to provide an additional challenge. The balance isn’t perfect, but Trine 4 isn’t meant to be the most difficult puzzle platformer, or so it seems.
The balancing of puzzles based on multiplayer is most easy to “cheese” when you add in a fourth player. As the game only has three playable types, adding a fourth person means that there will be a copy of one hero; climbing a cliff becomes a lot easier when you have two wizards that can (when fully upgraded) make three blocks or bridges. The game also provides the option of allowing multiple copies of each hero even in the two and three player modes, but it is recommend you play “Classic Mode” for a more traditional and balanced experience.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince’s puzzles on a whole are enjoyable, but never particularly difficult. It often felt as though, even after passing one, that the puzzle was completed incorrectly, manipulating some of the game’s physics and more easily exploitable powers (Zoya’s rope or Amadeus’s cubes) to bypass timed closing doors or fields of fire. When this happened, it was dissatisfying, and could leave other players wondering if they were meant to be solved that way or something had been broken. Puzzles shouldn’t have a clear solution of course, but once it is solved, it should become clear. Trine 4’s puzzles don’t always give the player that moment of epiphany; some involve too much trial and error, others involve so many mechanics it becomes confusing. But there are plenty of puzzles that blend all the powers the heroes have gained over their journey with the environment in unique ways, and each one is a joy.
While most of these powers are simply unlocked by playing the game, some must be bought with points (gained by attaining a certain amount of the in-game currency found throughout levels). These powers are never necessary to beat a puzzle or enemy, so it becomes clear right away that they can break a lot of more difficult areas. For example Pontius’ Dream Shield (a shield he can place in an area and then leave) can become magnetic, allowing Amadeus to attach a block to it; Zoya’s fairy rope gives her the ability to hover objects: one could see how these could be exploitable. No matter how easy the puzzles become, the game however, remains delightful.
Prince Selius has unleashed his nightmares on the world, triggering the bad dreams of other forest folk in the process. But the goal of our heroes is never to defeat him; they remain vigilant in their quest to save him from his own uncontrollable magic. Their hearts are good, as so is the message of Trine 4. “Our world is already dangerous enough, we have to look out for each other.” With each team effort to ride pumpkins through a briar-patch or hook a box to the top a cliff, here is a game that brings friends closer instead of (potentially) tearing them apart. The heartwarming moments created off screen run parallel to the adventure and action of a rich platforming world that feels like returning to an old tale told in childhood. For fans of the Trine series, there’s nothing better.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is available on October 8th on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PC for $29.99. Screen Rant was provided with a digital PS4 copy for the purpose of this review.