Puzzle games are difficult to get right. Make them too easy and you alienate puzzle fans. Make them too hard and regular players might not reach the end. The key to making a middle-of-the-road puzzle game is to provide a unique toolkit, multiple solutions, and more difficult side puzzle. Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince does exactly that and comes off as one of the more relaxing puzzle games in recent memory.
In single-player, you switch between the standard fantasy archetypes: Wizard, knight, and rouge. This time, the three heroes must return a lost prince to the local wizard school. The prince, of course, doesn’t want to go back, and his nightmares manifest into reality through a veil of purple fog. Hence the subtitle, The Nightmare Prince.
The heroes have a lot of character and charm. Amadeus the wizard comes off as aloof at times. Pontius the knight is always thinking about his next meal. Zoya the thief censors herself when suggesting her next crime so as to seem more heroic. The three heroes occasionally banter with excellent character writing that made me smile ear to ear. To be clear, you don’t need to play the previous Trine games to understand the story or the characters.
For the most part, Trine 4 is a 2.5D puzzle platformer with the occasional foray into Smash Bros. combat stages. You solve puzzles by using each character’s special abilities, which unlock over time. The wizard spawns weighted boxes and can levitate props. The thief fires ice arrows, makes bridges, and uses a grappling hook. The knight can reflect things off his shield and charge through walls. In practice, you use the wizard to set up puzzles, the thief for platforming through the puzzles, and the knight for combat. This is especially interesting because puzzles change slightly as you have more co-op players.
The puzzles are never frustrating. If anything, it’s gratifying to know that, no matter how difficult a puzzle may seem, you have everything you need to solve it. Many rooms have a frame around the door which props from the previous room cannot fit through. This forces you to focus on the puzzle itself, rather than previous props. At some point, you hit this zen-like flow where you’re enjoying the story and spending just enough time on the puzzles to make them satisfying.
At one point, I discovered an optional puzzle which seemed impossible. I had to reach a chest directly above me, but there was a spiked platform on a rolling rail blocking my path. Weighing down the spiked platform made the chest inaccessible. After thinking through all my options, I realized that I had to freeze the platform in place, stick a box on it, and use the rope to climb up to the platform. The solution was there. I just had to figure out the right order.
On the other hand, combat is the weak link. Nightmare wolves and spiders spawn in on cloudy purple platforms. Whenever this happened, I switched to the knight and spammed his sword attack until the fog cleared. The only exception to this was when I couldn’t reach a spider on the wall, so I shot it with an arrow. Even the boss fight was very straight forward. Combat isn’t really challenging, and it can break up the flow between puzzles. That might change further down the road.
As you fight enemies and collect optional potion bottles, you earn unlocks. These expand your puzzle-solving toolkit and make characters more powerful in combat. For example, the wizard can spend potion bottles to slam his box like a Thwomp. I like that, it gives you a reason to linger a little longer and not only solve the puzzle but collect the extra stuff.
Trine 4 doesn’t need to be hard. It trains you to solve puzzles and always builds on what came before. It’s a lot like the order of operations. Trine 4 hits that just right difficult curve that makes you think for a few seconds before sending you on your way. When the puzzling is perfect, you can really appreciate the beautiful levels and charming characters. I’m eager to see how puzzles become more complex down the road.
TechRaptor previewed Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince with a beta copy provided by the developer. The full game will release on October 8th for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.