Version tested: Mac
Trine was a great co-op adventure that too many people worked their way through alone. Multiplayer was only available locally, and Frozenbyte's rather earnest class-based platformer could initially seem a little too complicated to appeal to the drop-in, drop-out couch crowd.
Trine 2 doesn't change very much about the basics of the design, but it does take its new campaign online for up to three players. It's easy to jump into, extremely stable (on the PC/Mac version anyway, which is all I've tested) and it's a crucial addition to the game. Suddenly you can blast through this chaotic fantasy universe with friends and strangers alike: improvising, collaborating and fighting over who gets to be the wizard.
Elsewhere, it's pretty much the game it once was, with Frozenbyte's vivid 3D art used to craft a new selection of intricate side-scrolling 2D levels laden with puzzles and combat. The first game's cast has returned, meaning you play while cycling between a brawling knight, a nimble grapple-hook-wielding thief and a wizard who can levitate objects and conjure a series of blocks and planks. They've each got a range of simple new powers to choose between as you level up, too, with skill points adding fire or ice to the thief's arrows, say, or allowing the wizard to chuck enemies around.
It's a nice suite of fairly basic choices, but Trine 2's no RPG. This is where the warm appeal of the game starts to get hard to define, actually, because it's not really much of a standout as a platformer, a brawler or a puzzler, either. Leaping around is an entertaining but rather imprecise business most of the time - you could say that the game's approach to traversal is enthusiastic rather than refined - whilst combat is noisy but fairly simplistic. The puzzles are smart enough, but fairly repetitive, while their solutions - involving pipe-construction, crate-stacking, plant-watering, and some rote lifts from Portal - are rarely ingenious.
What makes all of these adequate components seem so special, I suspect, is the physics. While you're hacking out solutions and moving through the environments, Trine 2 offers you a place where anything could happen: where terrible accidents come with unintended, often useful consequences, and intricate plans have a habit of collapsing in hilarious ways. It has a little of the cramped and teetering chaos of a good LittleBigPlanet level, actually, but the jumping is better. A bit better, at least.
Exhibit A: I'm on the balmy shores of Searock Castle, and I'm being chased by a huge red guy carrying flaming swords. My thief and knight are both dead until I reach the next checkpoint, so I'm down to just my wizard, who can summon a decent plank, but is absolutely useless in a fight.
Behind me, things look bad. Up ahead, things look even worse. Not only is this horrible giant gaining on me, but I can see a series of rotating platforms grinding away over a pit of spikes that I'm meant to be able to navigate. I'm going to need to time this just right - and time it just right even as I'm busy taking fiery blows to the back of my head.
Except I don't need to worry. Not on this occasion anyway, because the huge red guy trips and falls into the chuntering gears that are busy making those annoying platforms spin around, and they just happen to catch in the right places for me to get across. As I bound away, I can hear the mechanism chewing up my would-be attacker. It's brilliant and funny and weirdly perfect - and yet it's all unscripted, and it never happens this way again on subsequent play-throughs. It's a proper gaming memory, in other words.
Exhibit B is a bit weirder. We're still in the castle level, but this time the game's broken: properly broken. I'm meant to be able to pull a hatch open in order to shoot an arrow at a water bubble that's lurking inside, causing the water to trickle down onto a sapling, which will then grow into a beanstalk allowing me to progress. (Trine 2 is that kind of game.) There's a problem, though: the hatch is glitchy and has gotten itself stuck, and the water bubble is now facing the wrong way and twitching around.
After a bit of experimentation, I realise I still have a shot at this, though. I can use the knight's upgraded hammer to break the water bubble from the other side of the hatch. The only problem with that is, with the hatch still shut, the water's then trickling too far to the right of the sapling. So close!
It's Wizard Time, as it so often is with Trine: it's time to build a teetering pile of blocks over on the other side of the screen completely, and then wedge a plank inside them. (That plank, incidentally, is Trine 2's golden gun: it's perfect for just about everything.) The end of the plank sticks out under the hatch, the water now rolls off it and onto the sapling. The game was broken but I have fixed it - and my reward is a nice fresh beanstalk.
The Exhibit B scenario came up a few times throughout Trine 2's shortish campaign. I'm not saying that it's good that the game is a little buggy, because at least one of its bugs - it's near the end of Eldritch Passages - can send you right back to the start of the level with no way of improvising your way out of a problem. I'm saying that, often, even when you are stuck with something that's not your fault, the game's physics are so reliable that you can generally work out a new way to get around it.
Partly, this is Trine 2's design: you're meant to be able to tackle a lot of the challenges as any of the three characters, so everything needs to be a little loose and fudge-able. Partly, though, it goes beyond design and hits on the game's central approach to universe building: construct mechanisms that actually work, and then they'll be fun to play with even if the puzzles themselves are a little dull - or on the rare occasions that the whole thing falls to pieces.
It's handy, of course, that Trine 2's also a bit of a looker. While the first game could be detailed to the point of seeming rather cluttered and busy, Frozenbyte's sequel manages to balance its vistas a lot better: curlicued vines in the foreground give way to a beautiful gloomy church in the background, and mysterious castles are nestled against sandy shorelines and throbbing red sunsets.
Video games are filled with the kind of ice levels and acid-riddled caves that Trine 2 takes you through, but they often feel like the sets for some generic fantasy TV movie. Here, they genuinely come across as illustrations from a fairy tale, and the environments are littered with pleasing little features: pumpkin patches or piles of flabby starfish to bounce across, machinery built from old diving bell parts, or moving platforms that are tangled up in the tentacles of a helpful octopus.
It's a strange proposition, then. Trine 2 is a game built from ideas that have all been handled better elsewhere, but it pulls them together in a way that makes you forgive most of its shortcomings. If you're after amazing platforming and brain-twisting puzzles, you're going to be quietly underwhelmed. If you're merely seeking beautiful sights and genuine camaraderie, though, look no further.
7 / 10