For a game to warrant a sequel, two conditions should be true. From a commercial perspective, the original must have been successful enough to inspire the belief that a new iteration would yield a good return for the money and time invested. Secondly, the creators should have a clear vision for how they can improve the experience through iteration.
Frozenbyte’s Trine was a charming, beautiful, fun, and remarkably tight experience. It was one without significant glaring flaws, and it was one that sold well for a quasi-obscure downloadable title. Trine 2 was a sequel worth making from a commercial standpoint, but how could Trine 2 improve upon the ideas put forth by the first game?
While it doesn’t break away from the formula laid out in the first game, Trine 2 falls short of its predecessor, but why? Let’s start with what it did better. Visually, Trine 2 is the most gorgeous game to come out all year. It isn’t a graphical titan like Crysis 2 or The Witcher 2, but what it lacks in horsepower it makes up for in stunningly realized art direction. On the audio side of things the soundtrack is a pleasant mix of soothing and evocative and contributes enormously to the game’s endless supply of charm. With a consistent beautiful visual style full of vibrant and contrasting colors and a delightful fantasy orchestra, the game’s aesthetic is better realized and far more striking than that of the original Trine.
Along these lines the characters also do wonders to add to the charming aesthetic of the game. The playful comradery expressed in the brief dialogues between the trio reinforces the jaunty jovial tone of the game which I felt was lacking in the first game, though not entirely absent. When one character poses the question ‘Do you know that the Octopus has three hearts?’ and another responds, ‘Just like us!’ that makes me smile and Frozenbyte has drawn me even more deeply into this fantastical world and made me invest in the characters emotionally with very little said.
Now for how Trine 2 was a weaker experience. The puzzles. Most of the time I was able to simply brute force my way through them with quick reflexes rather than proper lateral thinking. Simply using the delay that occurs when the wizard draws a box in mid air and exploiting that to air jump around got me through most of the game’s trials. Not only was I able to, but it felt far more straightforward and rewarding. While allowing for problems to be approached from multiple angles they made each possible solution more obscure. It wasn’t always clear what the function of the puzzle was or what tools I had to work with in the environment. In that regard, Frozenbyte did a poor job of directing the player toward what they needed to solve the puzzles. Obviously, this doesn’t make them unsolvable, but merely obfuscated.
When I wasn’t brute forcing a puzzle outright, I was solving it through the most circuitous means possible because it was never clear to me how the puzzle was intended to be approached, not to be confused with the answer being too difficult to come to. My suspicion is that I was just being dense some of the times, and the answers to others really were that murky. This doesn’t make the puzzles terrible, but it does expose a rather large weakness in the armor that wasn’t nearly as obvious in Trine.
On one hand, it’s all the more rewarding when I feel as though I devised a solution where previously none existed as opposed to finding the one laid out for me, but on the other hand getting there tends to be frustrating, and not always gratifying enough to justify that frustration. The game has a wonderful charm, but I would often complete an area thinking, “good riddance,” rather than appreciating what I had accomplished.
To be clear, I’m not complaining that the puzzles are too difficult to solve, but that they’re designed poorly. They feel less like brain teasers and more like elaborate reflex tests because the cerebral methodical way of devising a solution is tends to be obscured half the time. The lateral thinking that got me through Trine and other similar puzzle platformers failed me in Trine 2 despite the complexity of the puzzles being nearly equivalent.
The talent trees compound the issues further because it provides a plethora of ways to circumvent devising a clever solution. For instance, the wizard’s talent tree allows you to summon even more items which can be exploited for platforming, and there’s simply no way to balance around that. If you assume that the player is going to take those skills and design your puzzles around it, players who didn’t take those talents will be unable to complete the challenge. If you don’t account for those talent points though, it becomes too simple to break the game. That’s the root my issues with the puzzle design; it feels less like I’m solving them and more like I am finding creative ways to bypass solving them. The creativity it allows is great, and not all puzzles are like this, but it is ultimately a more frustrating experience than it is a satisfying one.
Also, having a puzzle in the game where you need to hit a switch to shift the camera upwards so that you can fit together a series of pipes and putting thecamera shift on a very short timer is an awful idea.
Puzzles aside, the rest of the gameplay feels just right. Straightforward, simple, and tight just like the first game, and each class has a high capacity for soloing which opens up some fascinating avenues for how you choose to progress through the game.
If any theme has emerged here, it’s that Trine 2 offers up a more flexible experience at the expense of Trine’s much stronger puzzle design.
A less delightful game would have crashed and burned, but Trine 2 gracefully avoids nose diving with a solid aesthetic, heaps of charm, tight combat and platforming, the rare puzzle that shows some of the previous game’s genius, and even its weakest point is lukewarm.
I feel like this should go without saying, but I haven’t harped on the puzzles so much because they were unacceptable, but because Frozenbyte has already proved to me that they can do better than the gamut from weak to lukewarm with the first game. When you execute with excellence the first time, stumbling the second time is all the more poignant, but it is not tantamount to failure.
7.0 / 10
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