Review : Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince

Once upon a time, the Trine series was heralded as some of the most visually impressive indie games around. Developer Frozenbyte had released the game in 2009 to rave reviews and fan reception in an era when downloadable games were just starting to take form.Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is a sequel that plays it very safe – which, in this particular case, is for the better. Coming back to the traditional style of co-op gameplay and puzzle solving that made the first two games so delightful is exactly the kind of refocusing that the Trine series needed after the misfire of Trine 3. Some lackluster puzzle designs, technical issues, and a lack of difficulty stand in the way of it overtaking Trine 2 as the best of the series, but Trine 4 still remains a shining example of how cooperative gaming should be, and is one of the most gorgeous looking 2.5D games of 2019.The Nightmare Prince is a great course correction, with a back-to-basics approach that returns to the series’ 2.5D roots while adding several clever, game-changing new toys and abilities for each hero to play with.

I never felt like I hit a wall where the game tapered off and I wasn’t learning new tricks. At the same time, these abilities were slowly introduced to me as I progressed and weren’t thrown at me all at once. The further I got, the more sophisticated puzzles became, which is how it should be. There comes a point early in the campaign where you’ll need to utilize each character’s unique abilities to solve a puzzle.The serviceable but altogether unremarkable fairytale story this time around has the team searching for a missing prince named Celius, who has exposed himself to dark magic that causes the nightmares of those around him to come to life, hence the subtitle.t’s really a sad story and something you’d never wish to see happen to a talented company. Thankfully, Frozenbyte didn’t throw in the towel. After regaining confidence with some smaller-scale releases, the team is returning to the series that made it a household name.Each character is fun to play on their own, though Amadeus is arguably the most important when it comes to the more complex puzzles thanks to his ability to conjure boxes and other shapes to help get the team over obstacles, and he offers the most flexibility in coming up with solutions.I would always seem to hit either X or the right trigger before swapping to the necessary character I wanted, thus cancelling out whichever ability I had used previously. A conjured item from the wizard would disappear, the platform I had steadied with a rope would break free because I accidentally shot an arrow at it instead.This isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable. It’s genially written and the characters are as likeable as ever, bad jokes and all. But it’s not what you’ll be playing for. It also has zero relevance to the previous game’s plot which ended on a cliff-hanger. Apparently Frozenbyte want to pretend Trine 3 never happened, which seems a little harsh, but functionally it doesn’t make a huge amount of difference.

It’s not a very original or daring approach, but after the disappointment of Trine 3, which almost destroyed Finnish developer Frozenbyte, it’s obvious why they went that route. And original or not there’s no denying that Trine 4 is not only a much better game but probably the best in the series.This is the latest installment in the popular Trine franchise. Players control three characters, using their unique abilities to overcome various obstacles and defeat enemies that stand between them and saving their realm. The game features strong themes of teamwork, cooperation, and friendship. While there’s violence in the game, with players fighting monsters, skeletons, and other creatures, parents should note that there’s no blood or gore. Otherwise, there’s no inappropriate content.The initial title was lauded for its fantastic puzzle design and aesthetics, which were honed and improved even further by the sequel that launched two years later. Things took a turn for the worse, however, when Frozenbyte bit off more it could chew with Trine 3 – marking the series’ jump from 2.5D to 3D – which failed to live up to expectations and brought the future of the whole franchise into question.And in this area Trine 4 is positively feral. Not only is it the longest Trine yet – somewhere between 10 and 15 hours – it’s also the most varied, taking players from icy mountain plateaus to sun-dappled autumnal forests, pumpkin-spotted farmlands and magical elven groves.

 

A boy by the name of Selius runs away from the wizarding academy and is starting to inadvertently cause trouble throughout the land. He lacks control of the magic within him and his nightmares are starting to run amok for everyone. Not wishing to stand by as he destroys everything, the academy summons Amadeus the Wizard, Pontius the Knight, and Zoya the Thief to retrieve Selius and return him to the academy.In Unlimited, everybody can swap to any character they want at any time, which means you can have wild situations like having all Amadeus’s on screen, each creating boxes and causing utter mayhem. This mode also allows for up to four players to play at once, whereas other Trine games were limited to three.Trine 4 is easily better than its predecessor, but it’s by no means a groundbreaking entry in the franchise. Regardless, it stands as a strong game on its own. Frozenbyte clearly found its niche, I just hope Trine 3’s reception doesn’t stop it from experimenting in other gameplay ideas and trying to mix up the formula in the future, too.

One level takes place inside a hobbit-like badger’s burrow, filled with rustic furniture and teetering stacks of books. In another, you help a grizzly bear pull a thorn from its paw, who then proceeds to follow you throughout the level. My favourite animal encounters involves a friendly seal who acts as big blubbery bouncepad to help you reach higher vantage points. In case that sounds a little cruel, the game briefly puts down its storybook to point out that it’s a special magic seal, and that, generally, animals shouldn’t be jumped on.Those of you looking for a deep or involved story won’t find anything of the sort here, but you also just may be surprised at how easily the plot can draw you in. Between the narrator on the world map, banter between the three main characters, and interactions with other residents of this curious world, Trine 4 presents itself to you in a storybook-like manner. There’s real heart to the writing and voice acting on offer here, creating a sense of wonder and curiosity in the player that all but forces you to push on and discover more about this world and its characters.

Verdict

Trine 4 had a lot riding on it given the effects of its predecessor, but we can confidently say that the course has been corrected and the series’ reputation restored. From start to finish, Trine 4 is a remarkably absorbing and beautiful experience that’ll keep you challenged and interested right through to the finish, while also offering a fair bit to keep you coming back for a couple hours after the credits roll. Though the combat needs some work, any failings here are easily rectified by the strong puzzle design that manages to stay both dynamic and challenging.I don’t understand why Trine has boss battles. The Ugly Duckling doesn’t end with the duckling battering the swans. Admittedly, Trine 4 tries to make these encounters thematically appropriate, with our three heroes confronting manifest versions of their fears. But the stakes never feel particularly high.