A perfect circle.
If I had to sum up Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince in a single word, I’d probably go with “charming.” Whether you’re drawn in by the colorful and varied environments, the wonderful soundtrack, the great puzzles, or just the sheer enjoyment of hanging out with these characters doesn’t much matter. Whatever your reason for booting up Trine 4 and spending time in its world, you’re likely to find a reason to want to return.
I’ve somehow managed to avoid playing Trine despite owning several on the games and the positive word of mouth that surrounds the series, but you don’t have to be familiar with the previous games to understand what’s going on. The titular Trine – Amadeus the wizard, Zoya the Thief, and Pontius the Knight – have all split off on their own adventures, but they’re quickly reunited when they’re sent after Prince Selius, an arrogant royal who accessed forbidden magic and submerged the kingdom in his nightmares. The gang’s task is simple: find Selius and bring him back to the Astral Academy, who can help put things right.
"Trine’s characters are what makes it unique. You can switch between them at will, and each has different abilities. "
You manage to find Selius pretty early on, but he refuses to come with you, so you end up tailing him as he runs around, hoping that this is the time the kid will see reason. Of course, he always figures out some way to escape, and you have to track him down again. It’s like when you’re playing a fighting game and all the characters are fighting because the game really needs to give you something to do. There’s no real reason for it other than the game needing to justify getting you to the next thing, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense in context, but you’re not particularly upset about it. What I’m saying is that Trine 4’s story isn’t particularly compelling. It’s just there to give you a reason to do what you’re doing, and that’s fine. Pontius, Zoya, and Amadeus manage to stand out despite that. They’re fun characters with defined personalities, and the sense of shared history here makes their conversations and interplay feel genuine.
The real core of Trine 4’s appeal is its gameplay, and that’s where it delivers. The game is a 2.5D platformer with a heavy emphasis on puzzle solving. Anyone who’s played an indie game in the last decade knows that this isn’t a new or unique recipe, but Trine’s characters are what makes it interesting. You can switch between them at will, and each has different abilities. Pontius is your heavy hitter. He can use his sword to break boxes and attack enemies. He can also reflect attacks, light, and projectiles with his shield, and his charge ability allows him to dash across gaps and propel objects into breakable walls. The downside is that he’s rather slow and doesn’t jump very high (the man likes his pie).
Zoya can attack from long range with her bow, but she can also use her arrows to freeze platforms in place to make puzzles easier. She also has a grappling hook, which can move objects, allow her to access distant grapple points, and make rope bridges between objects. Amadeus doesn’t have much in the way of offense, but he can summon blocks and move heavy objects, allowing him to access switches or puzzles other characters couldn’t read. He can also blink (teleport) short distances, making him your best bet for platforming sections.
"A typical puzzle might ask you to use Zoya’s grappling hook to open a door, use Amadeus’s magic to summon a block that can be used to trigger and out of range switch, and use Pontius’s shield to reflect beams of light between mirrors to open a door."
How these characters interact is what makes Trine 4 fun. A typical puzzle might ask you to use Zoya’s grappling hook to open a door, use Amadeus’s magic to summon a block that can be used to trigger and out of range switch, and use Pontius’s shield to reflect beams of light between mirrors to open a door. None of these puzzles are particular head-scratchers, but they are a lot of fun. Between puzzles, you’ll traverse levels collecting experience, which is scattered throughout the environment in the form of collectibles. Usually, getting them means completing small platforming challenges hidden between the major puzzles. Some are simple, only requiring you to reach a higher platform or make a trickier jump, but the best ones are hidden and come with their own major puzzles. Collect enough, and you can upgrade the character’s major abilities. One allows Zoya to immediately come out of her roll with a fully charged bow, while another allow Amadeus to lift enemies and hold them in midair. These upgrades aren’t necessary – you are more then capable of beating the game without them – but they make the game more fun, and give you a lot more options, especially in combat.
Unfortunately, combat happens to be the area where Trine 4 falters. None of the enemies outside of the bosses are doing anything particularly interesting, and it’s easy to just switch to Pontius for most fights and mash away because the game doesn’t require you to do anything else. Trine 4 occasionally livens things up with elemental enemies and hitting them with arrows of the opposite element from Zoya’s bow will wipe them out in a single shot, but you mostly fight the same enemies in the same areas, and battles feel pretty repetitive. Yes, you can mix things up a bit by using each character’s special abilities, but there’s often no reason to when Pontius can just stand next to enemies and spam attacks with his sword. Combat is easily one of the weakest aspects in Trine 4, which is a shame because the game does provide you with cool options. There’s just no reason to use them. Thankfully, combat encounters are rare, occurring only a few times a level, and then it’s back to platforming and puzzle solving. Trine 4 knows what you’re here for, and it wants to make sure you have a good time.
If combat is the game’s weakest point, the strong co-op support is its best. Trine 4 supports both local (hallelujah!) and online co-op, and there are multiple ways to play. Classic mode gives you one of each character at will and allows you to switch between them, while Unlimited mode gives player their own set of wizard, thief, and knight to play with, which means you can have several of the same character running around at any given point. Best of all, the game’s puzzles change depending on which mode you play. That meant that many of the puzzles I encountered while playing in Unlimited mode were meant to be solved with two wizards, or two thieves, which wouldn’t be the case in Classic mode or playing alone. The basis for each puzzle is the same, but even the most subtle of operations, like a new switch behind a locked door, mean that you’ll approach them completely differently. The game also doesn’t force you into a single solution, and my partner and I always felt like the solutions we can up with were just one of many possibilities. Your solution feels unique, and that encourages experimentation. It’s Trine 4’s best aspect, and one that is only enhanced by its co-op mode.
"Trine 4 understands that the best solutions and the ones you make yourself, and the best co-op modes are the ones that build themselves around the options having more players brings to the table."
Of course, the game isn’t perfect. The character models look fine at a distance, but up close you can see that they lack detail. I also ran into a bug that required me to exit and restart the game because a gate that was supposed to unlock when my partner and I solved a puzzle simply refused to. Still, the game’s production values are largely very impressive and I only ran into a single bug, which seems a small price to pay given the amount of freedom the game allows you.
Trine 4 may not boast the most compelling of stories, but it does everything else well. From beautiful music and visual design to free-form puzzles that allow you to solve them your own way and some of the most impressive co-op design I’ve seen in a while, Trine 4 nails the important stuff. It’s a game I want to go back to, especially with a friend, just to see what changes when we try something else or play another mode. Trine 4 understands that the best solutions are the ones you make yourself, and the best co-op modes are the ones that build themselves around the options having more players brings to the table. The yarn it tries to spin may not be the most memorable, but the best stories are the ones we make ourselves, and as fun as Amadeus, Zoya, and Pontius are, they’re just along for the ride.
This game was reviewed on the PS4.
Excellent art design and music. The characters are fun. You can solve puzzles in a lot of different ways. Several different co-op modes with their own puzzles.
Combat isn't very interesting. The story isn't compelling. Character models don't look good up close. The odd bug.
It may not spin the most memorable yarn and have the odd bug, but Trine 4 is an excellent co-op game that understands that the best puzzle solutions and the ones you make yourself, and the best co-op modes are the ones that build themselves around the options having more players brings to the table.