Stop me if you've heard this one: A knight, a thief and a wizard walk into a puzzle-platformer. Two years on from the release of Frozenbyte's well-received Trine, a sequel's set for a December release on Steam. Though the initially high price point turned many off the idea of checking out the original, the sequel's buy-in is a far more reasonable US$14.99, and pre-purchasing will give you access to a brief beta. We fought, swung and conjured our way through the two levels on offer to bring you our thoughts.
The storybook style of the first game is still in full force here, and the narrator returns to reintroduce us to the trio of protagonists. The driving force of the story is barely teased in the beta; all we know is that the mystical Trine has called the three heroes together once more. Their powers are much the same as last time: the wizard can conjure boxes and levitate objects, the thief has a bow and grappling hook, and the knight has his sword and shield as well as a massive hammer. The first level gives us control of each character in turn to set up the story and ease players into using the abilities, but the real meat of the game is in the second level, where you can switch between any of the three characters at will. It's a similar concept to the classic The Lost Vikings, except that your position on screen remains the same no matter which character you're currently controlling.
Though Trine offered three-player co-op, most players likely never saw it due to the irritating restriction of local games only, with one player on the keyboard and two forced to use controllers. Trine 2 makes the jump to online play, and it's a welcome addition: the chaos of co-op is exactly the way a game like this plays best. Two modes are available, one that locks each player into a particular character, and one that allows everyone to switch between them freely. The latter has its handy side - come combat time, the knight obviously dominates, and the goblins you'll face this time around seem to pack a bigger punch than the skeletons in the first game. But the restriction of playing a single role and using their diverse abilities in tandem can be a lot of fun, especially once the wizard gains an upgrade to his powers that allows him to levitate enemies.
The visuals are as lush and fairytale as ever, but they do look best at lower resolutions - playing in 1920x1080 left us with a lot of jagged edges. Even then, there's still a charm and beauty to the world; despite the functionally 2D nature of the game, there's a real sense of depth and perspective to the level design. There are some nice new effects like dynamic reflections on floating bubbles, but the most impressive improvements are in the gameplay. The physics engine has seen a boost, with added puzzles based around fluid dynamics. The wizard has more precise control over the objects he levitates, able to rotate them in the air, and he's no longer plagued by the energy bar that frequently ran out in the first game and saw him powerless - none of the characters' abilities require energy now, even special ones, since they're balanced in such a way that there's no point in abusing them.
We've barely dipped our toes into Trine 2, but we're already excited - it's more of the same things we loved about the first game, streamlined and spitshined.