Done Playing: Trine 2 (Xbox 360)

For my money the original Trine was pretty close to perfect. It taught its character-swapping gameplay and let you focus on the clever physics puzzles, it was absolutely gorgeous to look at and — most importantly — it didn’t overstay its welcome. It’s a lean, focused indie classic whose only fault is that its boring combat is mostly there to break up the puzzle sequences. Trine 2 doesn’t stray far from that formula and starts out strong but the additions to the gameplay managed to kill my excitement in the end. According to Steam and Raptr I’ve played both games for around eleven hours each but Trine 2 might as well have dragged on for an eternity.

Let’s start on the highest of high notes, though, with Trine 2’s presentation. The images here may look nice but they can’t begin to capture the wondrous sight of the game in motion. The title screen alone has more artistic majesty than the entirely of two or three contemporary games combined. My words do it even less justice so I’ll skip the descriptions and sum it up as whimsical. Whimsical as hell! There is never nothing to be amazed about while looking at this game. Seriously, this is what it looks like when unicorns dream!

Playing the game starts out just as warm and fuzzy if you played the original and if not there’s a short bit of tutorializing to get you up to speed. Once again the magical trine has summoned its three bound souls for another adventure. Amadeus the wizard is able to conjure boxes and planks and levitate most objects in the world. Zoya the thief can shoot ice and fire arrows to reach distant targets and swing around on a grappling hook. Pontius the knight wields weapons good for fighting and breaking stuff while his shield can be used to deflect enemy attacks.

Switching between them takes only a button press and as you cross the beautiful landscapes you’ll use their skills to free objects, move them around, and reach switches or levers to clear obstacles. Like the original these clever physics-based puzzles are interspersed with unrewarding combat. Skeletons have been replaced with goblin fighters and archers but the tactic remains the same: switch to Pontius and kill them as quickly as you can. It’s rarely rewarding or efficient to use Amadeus to drop objects on them and Zoya’s bow is harder to aim here than it is to simply swing Pontius’ hammer. The basic encounters are tolerable but most of the boss fights are confusing and repetitive with solutions that were more miraculous than strategic. It’d be great if you could turn off combat altogether but you can at least crank down the difficulty to make it quicker.

I was perfectly fine with getting more classic Trine puzzles to solve but the designers must’ve felt like they had to add something to justify a sequel. You’ll increasingly be required to move streams of liquid around to grow plants that sprout platform fronds. You’ll repeatedly play Pipe Dream by levitating bends and junctions into place to redirect flames, usually to conjure up giant slippery bubbles platforms. And because no puzzler today can exist without them, you’ll move portal mirrors around and awkwardly pass stuff back and forth through them. All of these additional mechanics feel unrefined, the portals especially. At a few points I got myself stuck on the wrong side of a puzzle and restarting from the last checkpoint was the easiest way out.

You don’t really lose in Trine, there are no life counters or limited continues, you simply warp back to the last checkpoint. The problem is there are some sizeable gaps between them, frequently in the middle of a big puzzle section. I routinely had to maneuver or conjure objects to recreate my path just to get back to where I died. At one particular point this put me below some platforms I had grown with no way to get above them again. I had to restart the entire level on that one. And what is my great reward for making it through these trying puzzle areas? Oh right, more combat.

If you find it on sale [like during Steam’s Summer Sale where it seems to repeatedly be on offer right now!!] or as part of a bundle Trine 2 is worth a bargain price just to see it being rendered at your fingertips. The front half of the game is pretty good and the new puzzle mechanics are interesting the first time you see them. By the end, however, I felt smothered under the excessive gameplay hoping that the next level would be the last and slogging on when it wasn’t. I loved the original a lot and it hurts to recommend the sequel at less than full price but those last five hours of prolonged frustration definitely outweighed the first six of whimsical fun.

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