It’s been rather fascinating to follow the development of the Trine series since its debut in 2009. The initial title was lauded for its fantastic puzzle design and aesthetics, which were honed and improved even further by the sequel that launched two years later. Things took a turn for the worse, however, when Frozenbyte bit off more it could chew with Trine 3 – marking the series’ jump from 2.5D to 3D – which failed to live up to expectations and brought the future of the whole franchise into question. Not ones to be kept down, Frozenbyte went back to the drawing board for the next iteration, Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince, and doubled down on the tried and tested 2.5D gameplay that made the series so popular to begin with. It’s a move that has paid off handsomely. Though fans of the series may find things a little over-familiar, Trine 4 proves to be the fullest realization of the series’ core concept thus far.
The central conflict of the story revolves around the titular nightmare prince, Selius, as his nighttime mischief leads to him receiving a magical curse that sees his darkest nightmares – and those of others around him – manifested in the real world. Thus, our three heroes – Zoya the Thief, Sir Pontius the Knight, and Amadeus the Wizard – are called upon to unite once more and combine their extraordinary capabilities to track down the runaway prince and neutralize the threat.
Their journey takes them through dozens of dreamlike locations each more gorgeous than the last, and all of which are somehow plagued by a bottomless number of movable boxes and rope attach-points. Those of you looking for a deep or involved story won’t find anything of the sort here, but you also just may be surprised at how easily the plot can draw you in. Between the narrator on the world map, banter between the three main characters, and interactions with other residents of this curious world, Trine 4 presents itself to you in a storybook-like manner. There’s real heart to the writing and voice acting on offer here, creating a sense of wonder and curiosity in the player that all but forces you to push on and discover more about this world and its characters. Trine 4 is quite spellbinding in this respect, as it conveys to you a world that you almost don’t want to leave, populated by equally optimistic and mysterious characters.
Probably ninety percent of your experience with Trine will be spent with its bread and butter: the puzzles, which luckily prove to be consistently engaging. Just about every stage in Trine 4’s twelve-hour campaign is really just a series of single-room environmental puzzles that demand you think outside the box (ahem) to figure out how to combine your characters’ distinct abilities into an actionable plan to reach a high ledge or open a locked door of some sort.
Amadeus can conjure up boxes and other objects which can be used as props or weights, Zoya can use ropes to create bridges and cross large gaps, and Pontius can smash things and use his shield to redirect beams. Though these movesets prove to be rather simple, it’s impressive how the developers have managed to do so much with relatively so little. Each level introduces new hazards and obstacles – like portals or running water – that distinguish them from what came before and, in some way, demand that you use your characters’ abilities in ways you might not have thought of before.
Just when you think you’re beginning to feel comfortable with the main movesets, things get ratcheted up another notch as new abilities are introduced, such as fire and ice arrows or a second shield. Puzzles naturally become more complicated and involved, then, but it’s a testament to the quality of the puzzle design that they never feel unwieldy or needlessly difficult. Much of this comes down to the semi-freeform nature of the puzzle design. A lot of times, it’s easy to see what you have to do, but how you do it is often multiple choice.
Nothing is more satisfying than finding yourself faced with a puzzle that’s stumped you for a fair bit and finally figuring out a way past the obstacle that definitely wasn’t intended, but, in a way, was completely intended. Trine 4 is the sort of game that gives you an easily grasped toolset and a clearly defined way of using them, but it encourages you to use what you know and ‘break’ the rules. As long as it gets your character over the hump, the solution is fair game, and some of the most memorable moments in our experience came from cobbling together some ridiculous solutions to admittedly simple puzzles. In cases like that, it’s all too likely that the ‘intended’ solution would’ve been far easier to implement, but coming up with a preposterous idea that somehow works out in the end is oddly beautiful.
This concept is realized in full when you throw more players into the mix. Trine 4 can be played in full alone, but the best experience is had when you have a friend or two nearby to play with. Putting your heads together to figure out how to get past that next challenge is always a wonderfully collaborative experience, while the actual implementation is as chaotic and enjoyable as you’d guess.
Sometimes, the guy that insists on always playing the wizard chooses to sew a little madness by nudging a box that causes the whole solution of a puzzle to come crashing down. Sometimes you all fruitlessly attempt different ways of crossing a yawning cavern before someone with an idea that would ‘never’ work turns out to have been right all along. Trine 4 is rarely a stale game when playing with others, and the easily approachable nature of the controls coupled with the universal concept of puzzle-solving makes this a release that’s great to play even with those less experienced with playing video games.
For all the strength that Trine 4 showcases through its puzzle-solving, however, one area in which it notably stumbles is in its combat. While we will concede that it does help to break up the flow of doing one puzzle after another, the sad reality is that the combat feels undercooked and mostly unnecessary. Enemies pop up every now and then in scripted, unavoidable battle sequences that see the same small collection of mostly harmless enemies emerging time and again to challenge your heroes.
Zoya and Amadeus are nigh useless in these segments, while Pontius can clean the room out in a matter of seconds, making for repetitive and predictable encounters that fail to add much to the experience. This goes for the boss encounters, too. Some of them incorporate some interesting puzzle designs in the ‘battle’, but by and large, they seem as if they are merely inserted to pad out the length and create some climactic moments towards the ends of acts. At its worst, combat is simply a brief, occasionally recurring distraction from the main gameplay loop, so it’s difficult to fault it for too much, but we would’ve liked to have seen more thought applied to the balance and design of these areas.
Though the campaign should only run you around twelve hours to complete, Trine 4 proves to be a nicely replayable game due to the previously mentioned multiplayer and the inclusion of tons of collectables. Pink crystals are socked away in cracks and crevices practically everywhere you go, along with some more deviously hidden treasures and letters (delivered by bird, of course). Unless you’re very thorough in your first run, you’re sure to leave some of these collectables behind, which will incentivize you to go back and find what you missed. The main map is especially helpful in this regard, as it neatly breaks up levels into generous checkpoints that clearly mark which sections contain which treasures. Make no mistake, there’s plenty to do and see in Trine 4 – even more than in its predecessors – and completionists will be pleased at both the quality and quantity of the content on offer.
We’d be remiss to discuss Trine 4 without taking some time to focus on the absolutely gorgeous visuals that consistently stun with their imagination and detail. We’d even go so far as to say that Trine 4 is one of the best-looking games on the Switch, if only for the staggering strength of its art direction. Every level employs a new look and colour palette to differentiate itself from its predecessors, and this new design is often iterated on several times as you progress through puzzles. Whether you’re exploring an badger academic’s dishevelled libraries or traipsing across a glade kissed by the light of the moon, each level in Trine 4 has something visually meaningful to contribute to the whole, and it all comes together to make for a real showcase of a game that’ll have you reaching for that capture button more often than you think, docked or portable.
Trine 4 had a lot riding on it given the effects of its predecessor, but we can confidently say that the course has been corrected and the series’ reputation restored. From start to finish, Trine 4 is a remarkably absorbing and beautiful experience that’ll keep you challenged and interested right through to the finish, while also offering a fair bit to keep you coming back for a couple hours after the credits roll. Though the combat needs some work, any failings here are easily rectified by the strong puzzle design that manages to stay both dynamic and challenging. If you’re looking for an easily accessible game to play in co-op or a game that’s a bit more reliant on brains than reflexes, Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is just what you’re looking for. We’d give it a high recommendation, especially if you enjoyed some of Frozenbyte’s earlier work.