Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince comes at an uncertain time for the Trine series. While the first two games were popular for their unique blend of multiplayer and puzzle platforming, Trine 3 ditched the series’ signature side-scrolling style to bring the franchise fully into 3D, which is always a risky move for smaller developers. Unfortunately, this trade-off exponentially increased development costs and forced it to finish prematurely, leading to a product that ultimately felt incomplete and divided fans. This has left the mere concept of Trine 4 in a tricky situation from the very beginning: should it pick up where its predecessor left off and continue to try to reinvent the series, or should it go back to the roots that made the franchise so beloved, to begin with? Thankfully, developer Frozenbyte opted for the latter. It might not be the most creatively daring game ever made, but by doubling down on inventive physics-based puzzling and multiplayer content, Trine 4 is everything a good puzzler should be.
Trine 4 is set in a medieval fantasy world that seems taken straight out of Hans Christian Andersen. This fairy tale adventure begins with the precocious Prince Selius, a student at a prestigious wizardry academy. Fed up with stifling academics, he flees the school and attempts to hone his magic craft on his own. Yet as he does so, he quickly loses control of his abilities, allowing his nightmares to become reality and haunt the realm of Trine. As the world is soon embroiled in chaos with Selius’s fiends running rampant, the series’ three main heroes are called back into action: Amadeus the Wizard, Zoya the Thief, and Pontius the Knight. Together, they must find Prince Selius, bring him back to his senses, and put his nightmares back in order.
It’s this sheer abundance of varied and ingenious gameplay ideas that makes Trine 4 so special.
It’s certainly a simple story, but it’s told with plenty of warmth and charm. The characters’ personality quirks shine through their dialogue, whether it be Pontius’s gluttony or Zoya’s moral ambiguity. Impressively for an independent game like Trine, every single line of dialogue is fully voiced. With its diverse cast of knights, thieves, wizards, fairies, and the occasional badger, each one of the many characters is brought to life with admirable vocal performances. While puzzle-solving platforming remains Trine 4’s core focus, the story wraps this main course in a comforting fairy tale coating that only serves to make the experience that much more enjoyable.
When it comes to the all-important gameplay, Trine 4 largely plays it safe. Gone are the controversial forays into the third dimension that made Trine 3 so divisive; instead, Trine 4 strictly adheres to the signature 2.5D style of puzzling and platforming that made the first two games so memorable. As the trio of heroes explores the world, they’ll be confronted with numerous obstacles that block their path, mostly taking the form of physics-based puzzles. Each character comes equipped with a slate of distinct abilities, and these must be utilized to overcome the many obstacles that they’ll face. In certain cases, Amadeus may have to use his conjuring abilities to create boxes to climb up walls, Pontius could use his shield to redirect water towards a shriveling plant, and for still others, Zoya may need to use her rope to swing across vast chasms.
To match these many abilities, almost every obstacle in the game is built upon its own unique gimmick. Some will require manipulating light, others will be focused on blocking lasers, and some are all about interrupting the conduction of electricity, among many, many others. Since the majority of these are based primarily on physics, there’s often more than one way to overcome each obstacle, allowing for plenty of creativity. The puzzles might not offer anything groundbreaking on their own – you can likely find similar puzzles in plenty of other games – but it’s this sheer abundance of varied and ingenious gameplay ideas that makes Trine 4 so special.
There are also intermittent combat encounters between these brainteasers. However, they’re all extremely quick and simple, mostly requiring you to do nothing more than use Pontius to hack every enemy until they fall. Although the handful of boss battles do fare a bit better since they generally mix a dash of puzzle-solving with the combat, battles are generally the least interesting part of the game by far. They serve to break up the ponderous pace of puzzling, but achieve little more beyond that.
From these luscious visuals to the soft orchestral soundtrack, the world of Trine is beautifully idyllic.
The experience is just as captivating whether you’re playing on your own or with friends. For instance, I first played through the entire campaign in single-player and found the puzzles to be almost perfectly attuned for lone playing. Yet after facing the final boss, I started over again, this time in multiplayer. While most of the puzzles were generally the same, there were slight differences specifically attuned to accommodate several players. This encourages cooperation and creative thinking in ways that simply weren’t possible with only one character. Regardless of how you play the game, you’re bound for a delightfully puzzling adventure – and rest assured, it is also a truly complete experience. It took me about ten hours to complete the full campaign, and there’s plenty of incentive to play through it again with different numbers of players to experience the varied puzzles.
The environments themselves are often as delightful as the enigmas they contain. These range from white snowcaps to verdant woods to the dreariest old dungeons, all brought to life with some exquisite lighting, texture work, and other lush visual effects. It’s in all the little details that make the regions truly burst into life: the woodland creatures that frolic in the foreground, the sentient brooms that dance in the distant hallways, and the vibrant light sifting through the trees that illuminate the foreground. From these luscious visuals to the soft orchestral soundtrack, the world of Trine is beautifully idyllic.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince might have had to overcome some skepticism after the debacle that was Trine 3, but by going back to the basics, it digs straight to the core of what makes for an effective puzzle platformer. An equally solid experience whether you’re playing alone or with friends, it should please both veterans and newcomers to the series. It’s not the most wildly innovative game on the market, but with its fairy tale world, lush visuals, and excellent variety of challenges to face and ways to solve them, Trine 4 is a triumphant return for the Trine franchise.