A Co-Op Review for a Co-Op Game
Armand: This last week, Ryan and I had the pleasure of playing through Trine 2, the sequel to the critically acclaimed game with the same name sans ’2′, and instead of just one of us reviewing the title, we decided to do a discussion-based review.
Just to cover the basics, I’ll start off by pointing out that this game works largely like the previous one, albeit with prettier graphics and some new bits and pieces. You get the traditional RPG party of warrior, mage, and thief, and are tasked with running through a variety of environments (2.5D side-scrolling platformer) and overcoming both puzzles and combat challenges. And, like most RPGs with similar party styles, each character has their strengths and weaknesses which need to be used in harmony with one another to move forward. The main difference here though is that Trine 2 isn’t an RPG. It’s a puzzle game. The combat is essentially lighthearted fluff or filler meant to give the player a break from what is otherwise a series of physics-based puzzles.
Before getting to the puzzles, I wanted to discuss what we both liked about the game (and maybe the puzzles can fit in here anyway), before going into some other aspects. For me, the best part of Trine 2 is in the art style and presentation. It can at times rely a bit too heavily on colored lights, but is otherwise a beautiful game with many instances that force you to stop and just take in the surroundings. This can come in the form of environmental elements, the camera perspective, the fluid animation, or in the game’s rather fantastic and bigger-than-life creatures and set pieces. It’s impressive just on its own, but consider that it’s made by a small indie team and you start wondering why some of the bigger developers can’t get this level of art direction and beauty in their games.
How about you though Ryan, what stuck out for you from our time with Trine 2?
Trine 2 uses colour and lighting expertly to give its “2.5d” environments depth.
Ryan: Much of the same, actually. I think Trine 2 may just be the most colourful game of the year. Your characters exist in this really odd world where pumpkins are bigger than humans, snails are bigger than pumpkins, and witches live in houses designed by the most colour-loving yet insane interior designers in existence. I feel like, as much as we complained about the game while playing it, as each new environment presented itself to us we couldn’t help but be impressed. You travel across frozen tundras, enchanted forests, the center of the earth, and breathtakingly beautiful beaches all with their own aesthetic style and puzzle design. As boring and repetitive as the puzzles can get, I never once found myself uninterested or unimpressed by the setting in which they take place.
What I found most impressive about the game, however, was the way in which it handled its “collectibles”. A lot of side-scrollers often struggle with giving you reason to go out of your way to collect the orbs/fruit/human heads or whatever the level designers have scattered around the world. In the old days, just awarding the player with arbitrary points was enough to justify their existence, as most classic gamers were driven by the high-scores that these points worked towards. But with modern gaming, no one really cares about score anymore, so designers have to provide different rewards for players willing to go the extra mile to collect their crap.
In Trine 2, each orb/potion you collect goes towards your cumulative experience bar, which, after a while, allows you to level up and gain unique skills and abilities. The developers hit the perfect balance between making the orbs just hard enough to get and the rewards interesting enough to pursue that Armand and I often found ourselves spending the bulk of our time dying on the game’s various puzzles that didn’t further our progress within the level, but taunted us with several of these experience orbs. With every 50 collectibles you accumulate, you gain one level. Each level of experience is used to unlock one of the several abilities unique to each character. For the Wizard, you can upgrade the number of platforms you drop, as well as gain the ability to levitate and throw around the game’s various monsters (which is something that never gets old), and the Thief and Warrior have several tiers of offensive upgrades, all with their own unique abilities and strengths. All of this adds up to what is the most incentivizing series of collection puzzles of any platformer this year.
Unfortunately, that’s pretty much as far as I’m willing to go on the positive side of things when talking about this game. It looks nice, and its various collectibles are fun and interesting to collect, but the rest of the game isn’t able to maintain the same level of polish and intelligent design that those two elements so obviously had. But before I delve into that, I’m interested to know what didn’t you like about the game, Armand?
Armand: Before I jump into what I wasn’t so happy with, I do want to point out the strange choice of adding what are essentially desktop screens and little limericks as collectibles as well. Aside from the orbs which grant you experience (and which you can also earn by defeating enemies), the player will come across hidden chests. The first couple times we found these, we were hoping for some sort of awesome reward. I imagine most gamers at this point expect something useful to come out of rare, hard-to-find chest in a video game. When we received simple little pictures or a 4-line poem as a reward instead, it started off being a letdown, and eventually evolved into a joke, like: “Oh shit! A chest! We get another poem! Awesome!” <- sarcasm, obviously.
Which moves me to the game’s tone. I often couldn’t tell how much of the storytelling and characters and so on I was supposed to take seriously. The plot felt almost laughable, not because it was bad, but it just wasn’t sure about its tone. It feels like they were going for something with a classic Disney-like quality that could appeal to children and adults alike, but didn’t really do enough to capture either audience completely. The plot and tone were left feeling somewhat limp and almost an encumbrance to the game and setting. Also, the warrior isn’t funny. He was just plain annoying. And the fat jokes were kind of silly.
That was sort of a minor issue for me though. The biggest problem (and I think Ryan will agree) was that most of the puzzles could be solved simply by abusing the wizard’s ability. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this, the wizard’s main ability is to conjure up blocks and platforms out of thin air, and then levitate them across the environment. With two players, one wizard can do this, allow the other player to hop on the platform, and then float them above the puzzle to the next check point. With the abundance of checkpoints the game offers (a good thing), we ended up often just levitating one guy over a puzzle, getting them to the checkpoint, and letting the other guy kill themselves and immediately re-spawn at the new checkpoint. Obviously, the game isn’t meant to be played this way, and for a dedicated puzzle gaming enthusiast, this ‘cheat’ can be ignored in favor of completing the puzzles, but the temptation and ease of this abuse was too much for us.
Ryan: I think what’s most important to note about us using the Wizard’s ability to quickly bypass the majority of the puzzles is that we didn’t do so because they were too challenging or complex; we did so because by the end of the game doing anything that didn’t involve floating above the puzzles on a block felt like a chore. For the first two levels, the puzzles were varied and felt interesting and new with each one you came across. But as you progress, you begin to notice that, while the setting in which you’re doing the puzzles may have changed, at their core they have remained the same throughout almost the entire game. Trine 2 quickly introduces a number of puzzle mechanics early on in the story, and instead of adding new ones, or just spreading out their introduction, they just get repeated ad nauseam until the most appealing way to solve them is to float above them on a Wizard’s block. What a well-made platformer is meant to do – like Rayman: Origins, for example – is slowly introduce its mechanics and abilities, allowing the players to get used to using them at their own pace, and ensuring that anyone playing the game isn’t bored out of their skulls when, after 5 hours of having played it, they haven’t seen anything new beyond the set-dressing.
It just feels like next to no effort was put into the level design beyond the visuals. The story which propels you through the levels is nonsensical and childish; the bosses, like the puzzles and enemy encounters within their respective levels, are repetitive and eventually uninteresting; and as the game progressed I couldn’t help but wish it progressed faster. Because the puzzles are all so samey, the game moves at a sluggish pace that will leave you both bored and hoping for the end. It seems like we’re both on the same page as far as our opinions of Trine 2 are concerned, Armand; anything else you need to add? Any closing thoughts?
Armand: I think my take on both the puzzles and the bosses was more positive than yours. The bosses weren’t “traditional” boss fights, which is why they felt a little off. They required a different approach and kind of thinking to defeat, instead of just whacking at them until they died. These approaches weren’t always executed that well, but they were different, and I appreciated that.
As for the puzzles, I do think there was more of a gradation of style and difficulty in the game. If you recall, the wizard block thing worked a lot less effectively in the later parts of the game, for instance. Though some of the puzzle evolution relied too heavily on “here are a bunch of extra traps to avoid while solving this” as opposed to “here is a tougher, more complex puzzle.”
I think it will all boil down to a player’s preference and play style. Neither Ryan nor I are the biggest fans of platforming games, and I myself am not a fan of physics-based puzzles (not sure about Ryan). But I think there is a market for that sort of thing out there, and plenty of people could have a great time with the game’s particular blend of platform/puzzle/physics.
In the end, if you like that sort of thing, Trine 2 really has a lot to offer, and it will look fantastic doing it. If it’s not your thing though, it may be best to move onto another title in the season’s busy gaming options list.
Any final thoughts yourself, Ryan?
Ryan: Talking flowers.