Trine 2 objectively looks better than almost everything else I've played this year. Not behind qualifiers like "for a downloadable game" or "for a 2D platformer;" but legitimately better than dozens of 2011 titles I've either reviewed or played in my free time. Stylistically, Trine 2 comes off as hard edged Lisa Frank-ish art; the fantasy theme is omnipresent, and it's absolutely drenched and oversaturated in beautiful, bright colors. Whether it's a dusty library or a beach at dusk, the folks at Frozenbyte have stuffed every one of Trine 2's vignettes with unique assets and marvelous detail. Trine 2 is a champ on the technical side as well. Dynamic lighting impresses at every angle, character animation is completely fluid, and level backdrops are always ripe with activity. The game looks like a million bucks anyway you spin it, with only Child of Eden and Nights: Into Dreams showcasing a similar indulgence in color and style.
But how it plays is mostly what matters in the realm of interactive entertainment, and in this regard Trine 2 stays fairly close to its 2009 predecessor. Three staples of fantasy fiction return in the form of a knight, a thief, and a wizard. The knight boasts a sword and hammer and excels in the occasional combat section. The thief has a hand bow and arrow along with a grappling hook good for swinging across wooden ceilings. The wizard bears little combat skill, but can conjure crates and planks out of thin air to aid the party's platforming prowess.
Trine's signature hook was its means of allowing all of these classes to either coexist in cooperative play or flash over at the press of a button for a solo adventure. The dynamic of a puzzle completely changes when you have to worry about getting two or three characters from A to B rather than just one rotating class. Likewise, a solo adventure comes with the caveat of not having anyone there to assist you in completing a puzzle. With each class theoretically being able to tackle each puzzle alone (assuming you can figure it out), Trine 2 leaves a lot of room for assumed improvisation and variation.
Most of Trine 2's puzzles revolve around playing with the game's baked-in physics. Acid and fire baths mingle with cogs that need to be set in motion, water that begs to be directed to seeds, see-saw platform navigation, and pulling switches under the threat of danger, to name a few. I used the wizard to handle maybe 90% of the puzzles, as there was no beating his ability to make cubes and planks. That route can come off as easy and routine, but hovering on a blast of air and frantically making a cube beneath, creating a shaky platform on said blast of air, is something I found oddly exhilarating. Sometimes constructing crude towers of platforms and cubes that collapse into shambles the moment I jumped away almost felt dishonest, like I was circumventing the intended puzzle by outsmarting Trine 2's physics. I suppose whether that sort of design was intended or not doesn't matter; it was damn fun either way.
There were times, however, when physics seemed to get in the way of having a good time. Trying to execute a super jump off a bouncy mushroom or leaf proved to be an inconsistent exercise in futility, and attempting to literally juggle items with the wizard was more about chance than skill. It also didn't help that the wizard's manipulation "cursor" felt like it was designed with the speed of a mouse, rather than a controller, in mind. All of that being said, moments of frustration are quickly diffused under the toasty blanket of Trine 2's masterful art direction
Depth is added by way unlockable skills for each character. Upgrading by collecting glowing orbs scattered about the levels, skills include abilities like conjuring multiple objects for the wizard, elemental arrows for the thief, and a hammer throw for the knight. Allocated skills can be reset and respec'd at any time, which is super helpful in the event that you need to make just one more platform with the wizard or break down a loose wall with the knight's hammer toss.
I played the majority of Trine 2 by myself, but I did manage to coerce my girlfriend into playing the second level locally. Making a cube and allowing her thief to stand on it while my wizard moved her around was certainly easier than stacking (and moving) two crates by myself and pretending to be Magneto. We also discovered that, in the event that we couldn't figure out how to get one of us from A to B, the camera would follow whoever had made the most progress and then teleport the one who fell behind back into play. That was pretty nifty, and made up for the times when the camera couldn't figure out who to follow and obscure some crucial piece of the screen.
Sometimes it feels like Trine 2 might be a little too generous. Checkpoints are a dime a dozen, and at least on default settings my progress, whether it was in solving a puzzle or bashing goblins, never reset. This was great when I didn't have to carefully wedge a box in a gear ever again, but sort of cheapened combat - which already wasn't especially sophisticated or, with the exception of the final boss, challenging. I suppose Trine 2 is better remembered for its puzzles and visuals, which, at the end of the day, aren't as compromised by the frequency of its checkpoints.
Trine 2 thrives on its ability to properly behave in a solo or cooperative environment, but it will undoubtedly be remembered for its breathtaking art direction. How a relatively small development team was able to deliver a visual package that carefully blows full retail games out of the water, we'll never know, but as consumers we all certainly stand to benefit from Frozenbyte's technical and artistic wizardry. Because of this, even when it stumbles, Trine 2 is a joy to play.