Trine 3 was a bit of a dud. In moving to 3D, Frozenbyte seemed to have bitten off more than they could chew, with a short campaign, clunky camera that made platforming a pain, and puzzles that didn’t quite feel rewarding to solve. At the time it seemed the franchise was done, with the Frozenbyte claiming budget problems had contributed to the under-baked game.
Enter Trine 4: a stronger, more confident game that wisely returns to the 2.5D design of the first two games. Not only is Trine 4 a return to form for the franchise, but it is perhaps the best Trine game to be released.
Off on a quest to retrieve the Nightmare Prince.
The story setup in Trine 4 is simple: Price Selius has escaped the Mage’s Academy, and his rogue magical abilities are causing his nightmares to come to life. Amadeus the Wizard, Sir Pontius the Knight, and Zoya the Thief are all reunited after a brief tutorial for each, and using the power of Trine, they must venture forth and retrieve the wayward boy. The same issues that plagued previous Trine stories are still present here: the humor remains banal in it’s wholesomeness, and the story isn’t really much of a story. It acts more as a reason to reunite our cast of heroes, point them in a direction, and send they off into a rather meaty 10-15 hour romp across the countryside.
But, oh, does Trine 4 send you on a beautiful trip. Each level has a personal feel to it, with a haunted mansion in a pumpkin grove punctuated by a heist within an Italian-influenced sunset masquerade. Frozenbyte does absolute wonders with the designs of each level, with few ever feeling like a repeat of another. There is a bewildering sense of wonder and whimsy, thanks to Trine 4’s commitment to its storybook-esque look. The colors on display are vibrant and rich, with a verdant greens giving way to pastel blues and whites in some levels.
There was a badger’s borough littered with little artifacts and details that belied it’s long existence as a warm home, at least prior to the nightmares taking over, and such world-building flairs are tucked into every corner of every level. There are three collectibles in each level as well, encouraging players to creatively scour each level if they wish to acquire them all, which further highlights the brilliant world design on display. The design is – plain to say – magical, and the whole experience is lifted up by Trine 4’s commitment to its wholesome fantasy aesthetic.
It’s often amazing what Frozenbyte has accomplished with their world and level design, having not only delivered a beautiful and varied world that looks great on both the regular PS4 and PS4 Pro, but in the feel of each as well. Every level in the game has a sort of gimmick for the heroes to overcome, whether it’s hardy purple crystals that have to be broken by a heavy metal object launched with a charge by the stalwart Sir Pontius, or various mechanisms that only Zoya’s elemental frost arrows are able to overcome. I seldom found a mechanic recycled among levels, and each level is littered with smart puzzles that lean into each hero’s abilities. This lends the game a fine sense of progression, as each new ability the heroes unlocks is put to immediate use. Some mechanics return towards the end of the game, but they feel more like a greatest hits trial leading up to the final boss instead of recycled due to a lack of imagination.
Not everything is a dream.
Speaking of bosses: that is an area Trine 4 isn’t as wonderful, with bosses acting as tedious puzzles you have to crack before moving on to the next excellent level. The first boss seems simple enough, but there is no real evolution to them after. An alchemy lab in which you need to use Amadeus to move cubes around to reflect light into a cauldron isn’t terrible, leaning into the game’s puzzle strengths, but the fights after are simple mechanics checks: can you use this one hero’s skillset in a rote encounter. None of them are especially difficult, and with friends they prove either trivial or maddening due to three of the five main boss encounters being designed around a sole hero.
Another fault of the game is its combat: it’s simply a chore to be locked into an arena with enemies you need to bash when there is a more engaging puzzle on the other side taunting you. Combat is functional at best, with each hero able to pick up additional abilities in a skill tree that help with both the puzzles and combat. You can get a frost stomp for Sir Pontius, freezing enemies and making them vulnerable to Zoya’s fire arrows, or you can invest in a slam option for Amadeus that allows him to virtually one-shot enemies with a well placed crate to the head. The small arenas and platforms intrude on this creativity, with most enemies rushing your hero, making it hard to swap around and play with ideas. Typically, you’ll default to Sir Pontius and resort to bashing enemy skulls in just to press through without issue, and that’s nowhere near as fun as the systems underneath would like it to be.
Embark with your friends at your side.
That same combat is made absolutely mindless if you are playing in co-op with either friends locally, or random people online. Yes, Trine 4 has fully featured co-op options, and they can be quite magical. That is, assuming you can communicate.
Playing in Classic Mode, where only one of each hero can be fielded at a time, the puzzles take on a new life (with some literally scaling up to multiple players). Proper verbal communication is damn near needed to make headway, and with a solid group of friends it proves to be a proper bout of chaotic fun. Screaming at our Zoya to tether Amadeus’ objects together so we could make a wrecking ball our Pontius could use to clear a barrier was one of the best co-op moments I had this year. Trine 4 absolutely excels as a cooperative experience, at least until you can’t communicate.
Playing with randoms with no means to talk to one another turns the experience sour, with many of the game’s puzzles requiring communication to overcome. There are so many physical solutions to any given puzzle that reward player creativity that having more than one person acting autonomously tends to lead to everyone experimenting with their own theories, with the team seldom synchronizing into a cohesive whole. It’s not really a fault of the game, per se, but with so many well designed puzzles littered across Trine 4’s breadth of levels, you’ll want a mic to overcome them with other people tagging along.
A sequel we didn’t need, but glad exists no less.
That’s the magic of a good Trine game: you get solid puzzle-platforming with a thread-bare story and unnecessary combat. In returning to form with this sequel, Frozenbyte has doubled down on what made the franchise great prior to the mishap that was the third entry. Environments are more varied and beautifully designed than ever before, and the physics-based puzzles never feel unfair or obtuse. It’s an apology letter as much as it is a sequel, as if Frozenbyte wants the world to forget Artifacts of Power ever existed. In Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince they largely succeed, having crafted a fun platformer that is great to play either solo or with friends (assuming everyone can communicate). If you loved the first two games, yet loathed the third, give The Nightmare Prince a play: you’ll be charmed by it’s whimsical ways, warts and all.