There is an ornate tea set resting in the corner of my kitchen. Visually superb, it sits in the spotlight waiting for repeat approval from visitors. Many call it a masterpiece of design, the culmination of years of progress, resulting in the perfect cup of tea. The only problem with this tea set is that it remains unused. Requiring the meticulously refined combination of loose tea, timing and delicate straining, it takes a skilled and dexterous hand to solve the puzzle of making a good cuppa. If I need a good cup of tea, I mournfully stare at the tea set, then head for the cupboard. Unfortunately, no matter how much it may seem like cheating, the teabag is always the best solution to the problem of how to make a cup of tea.
Trine 2 is very much like boiling up a brew. Straight from the introduction screen, where the scene is set with a luscious, eye-wateringly colourful backdrop, you want to love the game. Everything, upon appearance, seems perfect. The ornately drawn, yet humorous, characters, the entertaining and charismatic narration and the vivacious scenes all combine into something that should be the perfect physics-puzzle-platform game. Only the puzzles, its raison d'etre - the cup of tea - it presents are muddy and confused. Often instead of putting in the effort to make the right kind of tea, I found myself cheating. I used a tea bag, and it did not feel right. But, in the end, I simply could not help it.
Maybe this needs more explaining. Maybe we should drop the analogy. Let us rewind.
Trine 2 is a a sequel. The original was well received, mainly for its inventive genre blending and lovingly crafted narrative. It took the best parts of a platform puzzle game and threw in some interesting physics mechanics and clever action dynamics. Through the divine magic of the mysterious Trine artifact, three heroes are blended in to one single entity, and the player must decide which skill set they need to solve a puzzle by switching between them. Rather ingeniously it also bent the bizarre situation to allow for some interesting multiplayer mechanics, where players can drop in and out and take control of one of the three characters. Trine 2 is the original’s wiser, prettier and more romantic twin-brother. He is definitely the more interesting of the two but, after spending a few hours with both of them, at heart they still act much the same.
The trinity of heroes is made of a studious Wizard, a brazen Knight and a mischievous thief (or entrepreneur, depending on who you ask...). Each has a unique set of skills. The Wizard can summon blocks and levitate inanimate objects, the Knight has a sword used for slaying all manner of beasts, the thief has a bow and a grappling hook to swing to the highest branches. As already mentioned, in the original much of the puzzling was calculating when and which character to use. Trine 2’s levels feel more open. It drops you in a beautiful, ornately designed scene and simply implores you to get from A to B, (via collectibles C, D and E) using whichever skill set you fancy. Often there are plenty of fun and entertaining devices littered around to aid or hinder your progress. Mystical seeds that bare huge leafy trees when they are watered; magical mirrors that act as portals; kettles that blow bubbles viscous enough to climb when heated by flames... each puzzling item is very intriguing and mildly clever you first encounter them. However over time, and through incessant repeated use, the glossy coat of production Trine 2 bears begins to wear thin.
For all the clever mechanics Trine 2 begs you to use, it never really evolves past the initial premise. Right until the very final boss, all the puzzles are all vague iterations on the theme of getting across a chasm or climbing to a higher point. While you may discover ways you can use the surroundings to achieve progression, often these are so obscure or simply too frustrating to use, that it falls down to the same simple process: using the Wizard to summon a bridge to clamber to the next ledge. If begins to feel like an extended edition of World of Goo, but with more awkward controls and frustrating environments. Trine 2 misses the point of a puzzle game. It fails to understand that for a puzzle to be fun or exciting, it must engage the player. They need to experience that rush that one feels when they understand and then solve a puzzle. The Eureka moment. Instead you feel like you have thrown several boxes at the puzzle until it subsides and lets you past. It does not make you feel clever, but rather dirty. However, just like a cup of teabag tea it is simple and it gets the job done.
In fact the wizard is so over powered, with his summoning of boxes and planks, that I would not be surprised if some enterprising individual goes on to prove the entire game can be completed with this single character. To add insult to injury the abilities of the thief feel clumsy to the point of almost being broken. She can climb on her grappling hook to reach higher points, but the physics feel completely wrong, like she is swinging through treacle. The knight on the other hand is almost completely useless, since his abilities only really come into play during the repetitive and downright boring fight scenes where it is usually the case of just hammering the attack button until all the foes lie slaughtered on the floor. The only time the battles really become interesting is when facing the bosses, but since these all turn out to virtually the same, this too loses its sheen quickly.
Multiplayer, where players can grab a controller and drop in and out as they please, also fails to really improve the situation. Often whoever is playing the wizard will simply build a bridge to allow all the other players, who have been waiting around impatiently, to pass. Furthermore, the wizard can use his telekinesis to carry any other player where he chooses, making a mockery of all the collectibles that were seemingly out of reach previously. Puzzle platform games can be fun cooperative games, as the excellent ‘Splosion man has shown us, but Trine 2 fails to be a team player, rather a one sided walkover.
In the end, after the six or so hours it takes to clamber through Trine 2, it feels like you have spent the whole time battling against the game. It is not a particularly enjoyable experience. It is a shame because the original Trine was a rather interesting and original idea, but Trine 2 fails to change the idea enough to elevate it out of the inevitable repetitive strain all sequels must face. Sure, the gloss of paint it has received is gorgeous - this is quite possibly the most beautiful independent game produced for XBox Live Arcade - but the style of puzzles the original presented have not really evolved and these puzzles get old, fast. By the end of the game, you may find yourself frustrated and confused, but at least there is always that delicious cup of tea to brighten your day.
A Knight and Thief walk into a bar... Ouch... Turns out that blasted Wizard put it there.