A Good Knight To All
In this topsy-turvy world of ours, it's sometimes quite nice to rest for a spell and do something you know is going to be fun. Sure, it's good to experiment once in a while. Moving out of your comfort zone is the only way to discover games that change your world, after all. Occasionally, though, you're not after world-shaking innovation. Sometimes, you want to sit down with a steaming mug of hot chocolate and remind yourself that some things never change. Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is that kind of game.
If you're not familiar with these games, they usually run as follows. Three heroes - Amadeus the wizard, Zoya the rogue, and Pontius the knight - live in a rosy-cheeked Tolkienesque fantasy land. Each Trine game throws another world-threatening force at our heroes which they must vanquish. Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince follows this formula to the letter. While it manages to throw in one or two more mechanics along the way, it's mostly just more of the same. In the case of Trine, though, that's never a bad thing.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is a very definite return to form after the mildly disappointing Trine 3: Artifacts of Power. While that game's experiment with full 3D had its moments, it never felt like Trine 3 settled into a rhythm as its predecessors did. Thankfully, Trine 4 has taken that lesson on board and returned to the 2.5D cinematic platformer stylings of the first two games. It's a joyous experience with one or two major sticking points.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince Is Stunningly Beautiful
Here's the setup. Amadeus, Zoya, and Pontius are all off doing their own things, which is exactly how every Trine game starts. Before long, they're interrupted in their respective activities by a request from the Astral Academy. Seems that Prince Selius has been having some pretty nasty nightmares, some of which have been manifesting themselves in the real world. Naturally, this isn't a desirable state of affairs. It's up to Amadeus and his buddies to save the day once again.
Every Trine game's plot is an excuse for two things: a jaunt through a visually gorgeous fantasy world and a chance for Amadeus and company to exchange wisecracks. Naturally, Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince misses neither of these opportunities. The plot itself is almost wilfully formulaic. It's light and fluffy fun as these things go, but it likely won't stay with you. Nevertheless, Amadeus, Pontius, and Zoya remain an appealing triple act, and the hands-off narrative allows Trine 4's presentation to shine.
What glorious presentation it is too. Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Mushrooms gently bounce and spring back when you leap on them. Fireflies glitter in low torchlight. Grass sways gently in the breeze and physics objects dance merrily with one another. You'd be forgiven for simply sitting still during a level of Trine 4 and drinking in the atmosphere. This is truly a game for aesthetes.
Not everything about Trine 4's presentation works in its favor, however. The music has a royalty-free library fantasy feel that does complement the generic aesthetic but that also feels hollow and trite. The world design is aggressively generic, and while that works with the general sense of gentle self-parody, it doesn't mean the endless castles and forests don't get boring after a while.
Puzzles In Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince Are Immense Fun
All the shiny visuals in the world wouldn't matter if Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince didn't serve up a heaping helping of fun physics platforming. Thankfully, that's exactly what it does. Each hero has access to a different skillset. Zoya has a bow, Amadeus can conjure objects, and Pontius has a sword and shield. To solve the many puzzles, you'll need to use these characters in tandem. Developer Frozenbyte says most puzzles have multiple solutions, and that's exactly how it feels.
There's a freeform glee to solving puzzles in Trine 4 that makes each new puzzle room feel like a fresh and exciting challenge. Will you use Zoya's rope arrows to suspend a block from the ceiling or try to make an impromptu ladder from Amadeus' box? Can you make that leap with Pontius alone, or is it best to try and make a rope bridge with Zoya? In the manner of the best puzzle games, Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince simply sits back and lets you make up your own mind about how to solve its myriad physics challenges.
If you're hankering for new stuff, don't worry. Trine 4 has some new arrows in its quiver as well, quite literally. Zoya's new fire and ice arrows add even more options to the mix, and there are a number of new additions for all three heroes that help in both puzzles and combat. Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is the best kind of sequel. It keeps the core of the series strong while adding new iterations on its central mechanics that make solving puzzles a constant delight.
The high quality of the puzzles is rather offset by a strange problem that's plagued the Trine series since day one. These games just can't seem to settle on an adequate control scheme. The precision 2D platforming Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince demands feels best on a controller, but aiming arrows and moving boxes is clearly meant for the mouse. This means that both control schemes don't quite work, and picking one means half of Trine 4 doesn't feel quite right.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince Is Lacking In Innovation
If there's a serious sticking point to Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince, it's a complete and utter lack of desire to do anything new. While its stubborn adherence to its franchise's core gameplay and feel are admirable, it does feel like Trine 4 could stand to take a few more risks. There's nothing here to set the world on fire, no game-changing innovation that elevates Trine 4 above "another good Trine game". That may well be enough for you, but anyone who's looking for something new need not apply here.
One of the areas in which Trine 4 could absolutely stand to improve is its combat. Frozenbyte and Modus have made noises about improving the core combat in Trine 4, but it still feels sticky, awkward, and unenjoyable. Enemy attacks aren't very well telegraphed at all, enemy variety is rather laughable, and the core physics engine doesn't feel like it was made for combat. Every time a new enemy encounter started, I'd breathe a sigh of frustration and wonder when I could get back to the puzzling.
Some of the new puzzle mechanics leave a lot to be desired, too. I thought Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince would be well above light redirection puzzles, but I was unfortunately wrong. The nadir comes at a certain boss fight which features not one, not two, not three, but four light redirection puzzles. This is a hackneyed and worn-out trope in puzzle games and it feels particularly unwelcome here. To put it simply: Trine 4, you are better than this.
One place Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince does innovate is in its co-operative gameplay. I played Trine 4 solo, but you can also gather a couple of friends and play it with them. The puzzles shift dynamically to accommodate the number of players, which is very smart design. I'm happy to report that Trine 4 is hugely enjoyable solo, so it shouldn't bother you if you're a lone wolf, but this is a game well worth experiencing with friends.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince - Final Thoughts
It says a lot for the quality of Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince that I was prepared to overlook the bad combat, clunky controls, and lack of innovation. It's comforting to spend another few hours with Amadeus, Zoya, and Pontius, and the puzzles Trine 4 offers up are some of the best its series has ever seen. You won't come away from Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince ready to sing its praises from the highest rooftops, but it is that most elusive of things: a very good game, plain and simple. That's all it needs to be. It's not "trine" to be anything else. Sorry.
TechRaptor reviewed Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince on Xbox One with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PC via Steam, and Nintendo Switch
- Looks Absolutely Stunning
- Clever Puzzling
- Freeform Mechanics Encourage Experimentation
- Gentle, Funny Writing
- Pointless Skill Tree
- Clunky, Frustrating Combat
- Lack Of Innovation
- Slightly Wonky Controls