Trine too hard can still yield some impressive results
Every console launch needs its showpiece game. The one that really shows off what it can do not just for graphics, but also for gameplay. One that really wows.
It's actually kind of surprising then, that perhaps the Wii U's biggest showpiece title, Trine 2: Director's Cut, is not available on store shelves, but rather only available through Nintendo's eShop.
Let's get this out of the way: Trine 2 is INCREDIBLY good looking. I would go so far as to say that this is not only the best-looking Wii U launch title, but the best-looking game on any console today. HD games have gotten into this stereotype where everything must be brown and lifeless looking so as to convey "realism". Trine 2 smacks that notion upside the head with a hammer and drops it into a pit of spikes. Everything in this game is overflowing with color and vibrant with life. Everything, from the environments, to the characters, to the effects, feels incredibly alive. You could take a screenshot of any point in this game and hang it on a wall. It's that good looking, and the fact that the Wii U can do these kinds of visuals at launch gives me hope that the Wii U will be able to hold its own against its upcoming competitors in the visuals department.
It's so easy to get lost in Trine 2's seemingly endless painterly vistas that you forget that there's a game here. Trine 2 is a puzzle-platformer set in a fantasy universe that's equal parts fairy tale and gritty epic. In the first game, not available on any Nintendo consoles (for now, but I certainly hope to see it in the future), three random heroes, a knight, a thief, and a wizard, were drawn together by an artifact called the Trine. The three heroes are called once again by the Trine and it's up to you to guide them through the adventure. You don't need to have played the first game to understand this story.
Unlike most games in this genre, Trine 2 is a mixture of puzzles AND combat. Oftentimes, after solving a puzzle, you'll have to fight off a group of enemies. If you're not a reflex oriented gamer, Trine 2 will be a very frustrating experience for you. Any problems with the combat being too hard are mitigated by the game's extremely generous use of checkpoints, which restore all three characters back to life. With the possible exception of one very hard section near the end of the main campaign, the checkpoints were for the most part fairly placed.
Each character of the Trine has their own unique abilities. The knight is intended primarily for close-encounter combat, and can use both a sword as well as a hammer to bash enemies. He also has a shield that you aim using the right analog stick to block incoming projectiles as well as provide protection from hazards such as lava and slime.
The thief is the most agile of the three characters and is intended for platforming. She can use her grappling hook to swing from wooden platforms. A lot of places aren't reachable without this ability. In addition, she can also fire arrows, which work for long-distance combat as well as cutting through ropes for puzzle solving.
The most interesting of the three characters is the wizard, which you can use for puzzle solving. He can levitate and move various physics objects around, as well as conjure boxes and eventually planks. He is virtually useless in combat, however, you can lift some enemies off the ground and drop them into spike pits or even throw them into oncoming fire from their own allies, which is always sadistic fun. A nice thing about the wizard is that you can control his actions by touching the GamePad screen. Drawing boxes on the screen and placing them feels much more natural that it does with two analog stick.
You control one of these three characters and can switch between them at any time provided they are not dead. Often times, you'll absolutely need a certain dead character to do something and be forced to backtrack, but due to their generous placement, the furthest checkpoint is never more than a few steps away.
True to it's fantasy setting, there is an RPG component here. As you go through the levels, you'll find a bunch of blue items: blue spheres and blue potions. While there are plenty of these that you can get just going through the level in a linear fashion, most of them require that you solve an option puzzle in order to reach them. When you collect fifty of these, you earn a skill point. You can then use these skill points to augment your characters' abilities, or even add new ones entirely. For example, the thief's arrows can be upgraded to Frost Arrows for a chilling effect on enemies. Word of advice: make sure to upgrade the wizard's box limitations as well as his ability to create planks. These are by far the most essential abilities in the game.
The game's other major selling point, in addition to its graphics and puzzles, is its co-op multiplayer. Up to three players, either local or online, can work through the game together. I never really got to test this feature out, but honestly, I was able to solve the entire game on my own as a single player. That said, there were a few parts where I thought "a second or third person could really help here".
A nice feature of the Wii U version is the addition of the formerly PC-exclusive Goblin Menace pack, which adds six new levels on top of the original game. Believe it or not, these levels are actually BETTER than the full game that preceded them. The storytelling is far more cinematic with close-ups and tracking shots, and even though it is a rather "small" quest, it feels like a big adventure in its own right. These aren't simply new levels created with the old assets, they're 100 percent original. There's some stunningly creative stuff here too, both in the puzzles as well as level designs. I don't think I had ever seen a goblin mummy tomb before I played this game. In addition, all of the upgrades earned during the original campaign carry over to Goblin Menace. There is also a level that's exclusive to Wii U, but it annoyingly requires you to go through the entire game to find map pieces to unlock it. All told, the package clocks in at 20 unique levels, with each one averaging around 30 to 45 minutes a piece.
Sadly, for what has been billed as a puzzle platformer, the actual puzzles, for the most part, are incredibly weak. Despite the game's heavy emphasis on puzzles, pretty much all of the solutions come down to drawing a bunch of boxes. There are a COUPLE of more original puzzles, but for the most part, everything can be solved with just a few boxes from the wizard's hands.
This is exploitation gaming, not in the sense that it's filled with cursing, nudity, and all of that nasty stuff, but because you have to exploit the flaws in the physics and controls to advance. All three characters can walk up some impossibly steep inclines, to the point where it feels like your characters are running up walls. Too often I would solve a puzzle and feel like "this CAN'T be how they intended me to solve it", whereas a good puzzle makes you feel like a genius on the level of the game's designers. Trine 2 has far too many of the former and not enough of the latter. I felt like I was actually breaking the game, rather than working with it.
Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, the Goblin Menace expansion levels actually contain some honest-to-goodness puzzles. It's so weird to think that an expansion that only a small fraction of Trine 2 owners will actually play is better than the main game itself
In addition, the combat feels inconsequential and lacks any kind of satisfying "oomph" to it. In fact , every time you die, most bosses don't reset, so you can keep dying and dying until you beat a boss, rather than working out how to actually defeat it.
Finally, the story isn't terribly interesting. The voice actors for each of the characters are very fun and actually really good, but I found it difficult to care about the dialog, especially because we're left in the dark about what kind of quest we're on for so long. The presentation could have been better in the original game. However, the Goblin Menace features a much more cinematic presentation, allowing you to actually see the characters speak, up close, which adds a much more personal connection to what is happening onscreen.
The Bottom Line
3/4ths of Trine 2 hovers between good to average. It's a lengthy, but heavily flawed puzzle game that too often favors brute force over applied logic. However, the Goblin Menace brings a much tighter balance of puzzles and actions together, allowing the package as a whole to go out on a high note.
Despite my belief that this game is heavily flawed, I still really liked it in the end. While it is the most expensive download only title in the eShop, it is still reasonably enjoyable if you like puzzle games, platforming, great graphics, online multiplayer, and fantasy settings.