Ascaron – Trine review

platforms and puzzles with a fantasy theme
Photo of Ascaron – Trine

What do you get if you take a World War I styled flight simulation, cross it with futuristic real-time strategy mechanics and add in elements of Frogger? We’ve absolutely no idea, but it certainly wouldn’t be Trine, which is a platform-based RPG puzzler with a cooperative theme.

Trine is based around the number three (rather like last Tuesday’s Sesame Street). Three characters are magically bound together by an ancient artifact, and must search lavishly rendered dungeons, labyrinths and castles for two further artifacts, as the three together will unlock them from their plight.

Predictably, the trio of heroes consist of a fighter, thief and mage. Only one can be on screen at a time, with the player switching between them instantly via a simple key-press. Each of the characters boasts different skills which can be utilised to tackle the physics-based puzzles and vicious undead that litter Trine’s hallways and caves.

The thief is basically an archer, but she’s equipped with rope arrows that allow her to swing from wooden beams and access areas the others can’t reach. The warrior is the grunt, equipped with a shield to block any rampaging monster’s blows, and a sword to hack them to death. The wizard provides utility, as he can levitate objects, and summon boxes and planks into existence for various different purposes. Boxes can be dropped on the heads of enemies to kill them, or used to create makeshift platforms.

Cooperation is the ever-present theme, so if the thief can’t quite get in range of a high tree branch to fire a rope arrow onto it, she will be able to when she hops on top of two boxes the mage has created and stacked up. The puzzles get more involved than that, naturally, and often involve multiple see-saws or windmill blades which have to be balanced with boxes and carefully navigated. All the while admiring the game’s excellent physics modelling.

The various traps and conundrums you face almost always have multiple solutions. This provides opportunities for improvisation using different characters, and it’s highly entertaining to experiment with their powers. About the only irritation for us, midst complex leaping puzzle, was that the jump key seemed occasionally unresponsive; but otherwise the controls are spot on.

Everything is done using the WASD keys and mouse buttons. So, for example, when summoning a box the mage simply draws a square shape on the screen with the left mouse button held down, the size drawn being relative to the box produced. A plank is created by drawing a straight line between one point and another. It’s dead easy, and the wizard’s the most complex character.

Trine isn’t a massively long game, but its 15 levels give it a decent play life, and they encourage spending time to fully explore for hidden secrets. That’s because experience point potions lie in these areas and they level your characters up, complete with a basic skill selection tree from which to purchase new abilities.

Fire can be added to the thief’s arrows, or a critical hit chance granted to the warrior. Locating every nook becomes surprisingly compelling, perhaps because often some of the knottiest puzzles are involved in obtaining these extras, and we found it hard to move on without conquering them.

While there’s no online multiplayer mode, the game offers a local cooperative mode whereby three players can control all three characters simultaneously. The catch is everyone has to have their own controller, so you’ll need two extra keyboards and mice, or joypads plugged in. We had trouble getting our Logic 3 joypad to work properly – the right analogue stick didn’t function – but we had an extra keyboard and mouse so got a two-player game going with those.

And it’s a different experience still, creating a whole new range of strategies which can be employed to overcome Trine’s challenges. The wizard really comes into his own, as the second player can stand on the boxes he creates while the mage levitates them up to those difficult-to-reach experience potions.

Bosses can be kept busy by the fighter blocking with his shield, while the thief stands back and pings multiple arrows into them. The game tends to be slightly easier as a result, although it generally takes longer to get several bodies across the various pits and chasms, rather than just one.

The only niggle we had with Trine’s overall design philosophy is that the basic puzzle elements – see-saws, suspended platforms on wheels and so on – are repeated over and over throughout the levels. But that’s nit-picking, in all honesty, and it certainly didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for this rather splendid combination of RPG, puzzling and platforming.

Company: Ascaron

Trine is an aesthetically pleasing and well executed puzzle platformer, with a distinct addictive streak when it comes to fully exploring the levels in order to upgrade your characters to their maximum power. When you're done with single player, the multiplayer mode adds extra life to the game, as the experience is genuinely different.