The heroes of Trine are reunited once more, sending Amadeus the Wizard, Pontius the Knight and Zoya the Thief on a quest to save the Nightmare Prince from his own dark visions. Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince steps back to the series’ 2.5D puzzle platforming roots, but can it recapture the same co-op magic that made it so popular in the first place?
Fans of the series will immediately feel at home with the gamepad in hand once more. The physics based puzzle platforming returns, with each of the three characters having to use their contrasting abilities to overcome increasingly fiendish puzzles. When playing solo, you can swap characters at will to combine their powers, but the series has always come alive when playing in co-op, bouncing solutions off each other.
It gradually evolves so that by the third or fourth act (of five) you’ve gone from largely using one hero at a time to needing to combine their ever-expanding set of abilities in more and more inventive ways. Their range soon grows from each character’s fundamentals – Amadeus conjuring a box and levitating things, Zoya grappling and creating tight ropes, Pontius reflecting beams and projectiles with his shield – to expand those basics and add new things like elemental arrows, summoning a bouncy ball, a charge that can bash physics objects or see Pontius zip across a wider gap.
It’s through this that the subtle artistry of the level design gradually becomes more apparent. You start the game largely using the characters independently or with simple ability combos, but the puzzles start to demand that you combine their extended range, often with a degree of dexterity and timing to pull it off. At the same time, the more platforming oriented areas can often be zipped through with the three characters taking different, only loosely connected paths.
Strangely, despite them seeming to be attributed to earning XP, the main abilities simply unlock as the levels demand they do with little to no fanfare, and it’s only bonus abilities that are unlocked by the player.
Stranger still, the game features a choice to make as you start a new game, between ‘Classic’ and ‘Unlimited’ character modes, with the latter being the default. Unlimited removes the limit in co-op of having one of each character active at any time, meaning that you can have two or three Pontius’ – well, Pontius and a couple of Lidl off-brand copies – running around at once. The levels have been designed with this in mind and puzzles can differ depending on the mode you’re playing in – solo, classic or unlimited – removing blocks, adding impediments, and so on.
Despite the reams of control and UI options, you cannot switch between the classic and unlimited modes outside of simply starting a new game, and while the game will shift between solo and co-op puzzle forms, this only occurs at checkpoints, so you can become stuck if a player leaves. The solution is to back out to the map menu and pick the level again.
Having everyone be Pontius helps a lot early on when you find yourself in battle with nightmares. These pop up irregularly, blocking the sides of an area with a purple smoke wall and purple smoke platforms to create an often quite cramped arena to fight in. Pontius is really the natural born fighter of the three characters, with Zoya’s bow only doing a small amount of damage and Amadeus having no attacks whatsoever to start with. It’s only once they’re upgraded that Zoya’s ability to freeze enemies or knock out elemental enemies with their counter, or Amadeus can grab enemies or slam his conjured blocks down on them.
There’s some amusing notes to the enemies you face, such as hedgehog nightmares appearing because the badger who you happen to be helping out at that moment doesn’t get on with his hedgehog neighbour. They come to a head with the boss battles, where you have to face each of the heroes’ greatest fears, confronting their inner demons of inadequacy and expectations that have been heaped upon them. They’re fun encounters, blending puzzles with combat and being built around the abilities of the character – if in co-op, you’ll all play as the subject of the nightmares, instead of having the three different heroes.
Ironically, given the criticism of the third game in the series, Trine 4 often feels like it’s being dragged out a little bit too long. The five acts provide around 8 hours of gaming – more, if you hunt around for secret areas. The levels themselves just feel like they run maybe 10-20% too long, and while I appreciate the gradual evolution of puzzles and it’s nice to see some earlier ideas return, I’d get most of the way through a level and wonder where the end would be.
That’s perhaps exacerbated a little bit by the cutesy fantasy world the game takes place in. Though it’s all about nightmares haunting the inhabitants of the world, there’s nothing terribly scary about hedgehog spectres rolling at you and brightly coloured spiders, and those only appear during the nightmare combat segments. The game as a whole is bright and vibrantly colourful, and it takes a step away from the almost realistic approach of earlier games to feel more cartoony and stylised with its character designs in particular. Still, that makes it more than appropriate to play with the family.