Whenever I think of great co-op games, the Trine series is never far from my thoughts. Since 2009, developer Frozenbyte has been quietly delivering some of the most beautiful and joyous puzzle platformers around. Sure, Trine 3 was an overly ambitious misstep, but Trine 4: 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. And while it’s not quite the ride that Trine 2 is, it’s nonetheless a welcome return to form for my favorite puzzle solving, adventuring trio: Amadeus, Zoya, and Pontius.
Rock Me, Amadeus
Trine 4, like all Trine games before it, puts you in control of the aforementioned wizard, thief, and knight. 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.
Gameplay is the star of the show here and it’s classic Trine, through and through. 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. The basic synergy between him and the others remains almost entirely unchanged: Zoya’s like a Swiss army knife of utility with her grappling hook, bow, and elemental arrows; and Pontius just plays like a wrecking ball of destruction, capable of decimating enemies and obstacles in ways that the other characters simply can’t.
In solo mode, you can switch between each of these characters on the fly, as you’d expect, but when it comes to multiplayer Trine 4 also includes Trine 3’s goofy Unlimited Mode. 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.
For the more serious crowd, there is also Classic mode, which is the more traditional style that is meant for three players, with each person assuming the role of one of the heroes.
Separation of Skills
One thing that Trine 4 does better than any of its predecessors is its sense of progression. You start with a meager but effective set of abilities for each character, and at just about every other level a new ability is granted that changes up the way you approach puzzle solving. Whether it be Pontius’s Charge attack that can launch boulders to break certain walls, Amadeus’s ability to create planks and steel balls, or Zoya’s newfound technique of attaching a fairy rope to an object to make it float into the air like a balloon, they all open up some interesting new options.
In addition, there’s a skill tree that features optional but useful upgrades like Amadeus’ power to slam levitated objects down, Pontius’s ability to freeze enemies when he stomps them, and Zoya’s skill to fire a fully charged bow shot after a roll. This split of automatic unlocks and purchasable skills that reward you for collecting items is a huge improvement over Trine 2’s simplistic skill tree.
Unfortunately, one area that Trine 4 does not improve over its predecessors is in its puzzle design. There are a couple of satisfying head-scratchers, most notably in the last couple of stages in the six or seven-hour campaign, along with one standout level involving a dream palace and a heavy emphasis on portals and light beam puzzles. But, for the most part, many of the puzzles in Trine 4 repeat the same ideas with very little variation. There were long stretches of levels where I would enter a room and immediately know how to proceed without even having to think about it, which is not a good sign in a puzzle platformer.
As a result, a lot of Trine 4 feels too straightforward and easy, especially if you’re a solo player. When playing with in multiplayer – which is absolutely the way Trine 4 is meant to be played – the added chaos of having to communicate and coordinate with other people significantly ramps up the difficulty, and the amount of fun to be had. In addition, many of the puzzles when playing in multiplayer mode are actually slightly altered to cater to having extra players in the level, making them a bit more difficult and addressing my main issue with the puzzles being too easy. Above all else though, some of the best moments of Trine 4 occur when cooperation breaks down and you just take turns finding the best and most unexpected ways of sabotaging each other.
Combat is still a weak point of the Trine series, but Trine 4 does at least make it a little more fun to play as Amadeus and Zoya when the action breaks out. Zoya can now use her frost arrows to freeze enemies and then switch over to normal arrows for big damage, while Amadeus can use his levitation stomp to crush enemies in a single blow. Still, neither of those options are as effective as just using Pontius to charge headfirst into enemies, mash X with reckless abandon, and cut down all in your way.
One final way that Trine 4 lives up to its legacy is in its art, which once again shows that Frozenbyte employs some of the most talented 2.5D artists in gaming. There’s a certain whimsical storybook quality to the look of Trine 4 that succeeded in drawing me into its fantastical world, which is full of intricate detail in each of its beautiful vistas.
The only sour spot is the small handful of technical issues that I encountered, which include some objects in the environment being completely invisible, and some textures that never loaded in, making the gorgeous world feel flat and devoid of detail. With a game this pretty, that’s a tragedy every time it happens.