Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince Review
Like waking up from a bad dream
Developer Frozenbyte had issues with the development cycle on the third iteration, and, following the muted reception to the last entry, the future of Trine appeared to be in jeopardy. After a handful of new IPs, however, the studio decided to return to their platforming franchise. The extended four-year break may have been for the best, though, as the series returns reinvigorated with Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince.
Picking up sometime after the events of the previous entry, Trine 4 reunites Zoya, Pontius and Amadeus for another magical quest. The young Prince Selius has recently ranaway from the magic academy he was holed up at. Troubled and burdened with powers beyond his control, Selius is a danger to the world around him. The unlikely trio will need to band together to not only rescue the prince, but also to make sure his dangerous abilities don’t engulf the entirety of the kingdom.
Even considering the frankly heavy subject, Trine 4 is as laidback as ever. All three members of the team have well established camaraderie with one another. Despite their backgrounds, the trio banter and reminisce like the old friends they are. It’s a good thing those threads are there, because the story itself is a big bunch of nothing. Prince Selius is a waste of a character, and the resolution to his arc is hilariously abrupt. It’s almost as bad as the conclusion to the previous entry, just in a different kind of way. Not even the presence of talking animals can make this story worth paying attention to.
Following the ill-advised move to 3D from Artifacts of Power, The Nightmare Prince rightfully restores the series to the world of 2.5D platforming. It’s very much a return to form for the franchise, as it hardly strays from what was the standard prior to the last entry. The skillset of each party member remains the same, and so does the way you approach each puzzle. You’ll typically need to combine the abilities of at least two of the three heroes in order to proceed. Sometimes it involves conjuring a box with Amadeus and grappling it with Zoya. Or maybe you’ll create a ramp with the wizard in order to shove a boulder off it with Pontius.
Despite the clear set-up for multiplayer, Trine 4 is just as fun flying solo. Switching between characters is quick and snappy. Once you piece together what you’re supposed to be doing, you’ll be able to fly from role to role in a breeze. And it’s genuinely thrilling when you do get to do this. Like triggering a Rube Goldberg machine you have total control over. Plus, there are seemingly several different ways you can complete each level. There’s usually a way the developer wants you to take, but you can just as easily cheese through segments as well. It’s the creativity afforded to you that I really appreciate about the series. You’re not breaking the game so much as freestyling with it.
While I spent most of my time with the game alone, I did get some time with the multiplayer mode. The framework of the series is perfect for playing with others, and this one is no different. There’s the classic mode, which has players taking the role of one specific member of the team. It’s the traditional way, and still a treat to tackle with friends. Even better, though, is the returning unlimited mode. Instead of being confined to one character, each player can move between the heroes at will. It’s a chaotic and often hilarious take on the title’s multiplayer. It offers up even more ways for you to handle whatever the game throws at you. Solo may be good, but playing with the company of great friends is even better.
Trine 4 shines when it comes to puzzle solving, but falters when it comes to combat. Instead of sparsely filling each level with enemies, every combat section takes place in its own little bubble. There are a handful of these moments spread across every stage. You can theoretically use each member of the team in combat, but it’s easiest just to use Pontius and button-mash your way to victory. Regardless, you’ll get little satisfaction out of each battle. The combat is sloppy and boring, and really just a way to break up the puzzling. Even the few boss battles can’t break from the tedium of fighting. It remains a chink in the armor for the franchise.
Visually, The Nightmare Prince is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the environments are absolutely gorgeous. The 2.5D art that Frozenbyte has created is beautiful, and every level of the title is striking. And there’s not a ton of repetition to be found in where you travel, either. You’ll venture from lush meadows to snow-soaked caves to a nightmare engulfed academy. Each one distinct in its own way. However, the character designs are rather rough. The designs themselves look bland, but the facial animations for them are worse. Their chilling ugliness stands out in stark contrast to the otherwise splendid scenery.
In the wake of the weak third entry, Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is a return to form for the franchise. The puzzles require creative thinking, but are far from challenging, and the level design is superb. It doesn’t stray far from the series’ roots, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This lack of evolution could be seen as a flaw, but in this scenario, I don’t think of it that way. Instead of feeling old, it feels comfortable and quaint. Almost like watching a beloved episode of television you’ve seen hundreds of times beforehand. It may not win a new audience over, but existing fans should be satisfied.