Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nitpicking Trine

(Nitpicking is not meant to be a comprehensive review or synopsis of a game. It instead serves to discuss the design aspects that most contributed to my emotional response, or lack thereof, to a game. A general knowledge of the game is assumed and spoilers may be present.)

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It evokes deep-rooted and compelling feelings, and it provides a sentimental yearning for a time in which experiences were more pleasurable and intense. Few modern games have the ability to induce nostalgia more so than Trine. Every aspect of Frozenbyte’s side-scroller, from gameplay to story to graphics, provides a longing for past experiences, whether they be videogames or otherwise.

Perhaps one of the more obvious nostalgic aspects is the gameplay itself. Despite full three-dimensional rendering of playable characters, non-playable characters, and environments, Trine is simply a two-dimensional side-scroller. It is a return to a time in videogames that was absent of camera-control and collision-detection issues, due to the lack of modern technological advances. Because of that, it is immediately accessible and intuitive.

Along with the ability to only move in two dimensions is a simpler type of combat. Protagonists are not cluttered with an inordinate or a redundant number of attack abilities; nor do enemies have complex or multi-tiered behaviors. An enemy’s fighting abilities are straightforward and obvious upon first glance, as are the necessary actions to counter and defeat it.

Much like side-scrollers of old, the emphasis of gameplay is placed on movement as opposed to combat. The bulk of Trine’s gameplay is simply moving from point A to point B. This is made challenging by various obstacles and puzzles that require precise timing and thought to overcome.

However, it is in these obstacles and puzzles that Trine supplements its nostalgic gameplay. Solving puzzles often goes beyond requiring precise timing, and necessitates a modification of the environment. Players also have the ability to supplement the environment with boxes and platforms to traverse a level. Modifying and supplementing the environment incorporates realistic physics for a much more transparent and rewarding experience than would be otherwise. It provides for creativity in solving puzzles, as opposed to simply requiring the push of a button to initiate hidden mechanics.

For the most part, each level of the game builds upon this formula of straightforward combat and physics-based puzzles in a steady manner. Unfortunately this progression is broken by the last level, in which the difficulty level is excessively ramped up by the inclusion of unprecedented design elements. This break proves to be somewhat frustrating and disappointing, though not disconnecting from the game’s nostalgic nature. The last level recalls the overly difficult and frustrating side-scrollers dominant during the 8-bit era of videogames, and also recalls the sense of relief when particularly taxing obstacles were overcome.

Beyond its gameplay, Trine’s story adds to its nostalgic value, though not necessarily towards videogames of the past. Ultimately simplistic in design, the story follows the familiar archetype of “evil threatens land, heroes band together, heroes defeat evil, everyone lives happily-ever-after.” The game does not fight this overly used archetype, nor does it attempt to hide it beneath intricacies and details. Instead, Frozenbyte embraces the simplistic narrative through its character design and presentation, in an effort that is indicative of childhood fairy tales.

Three protagonists are featured in the game, each with their own unique background and personality. First introduced is the thief, a cynical female whose main concerns revolve around extracting herself and any possible profit from the principal predicament. Introduced second is the wizard, a student still learning the arcane arts, and somewhat knowledgeable of aspects related to the predominant threat. Last is the knight, a man noble in intention, overpowering in strength, and unburdened by high-level thought.

Each of the protagonists is well created with the inclusions of both character strengths and weaknesses. They are all instantly recognizable and relatable, and their occasional banter serves to endear them even further.

However, perhaps the most disappointing aspect of Trine is the absence of any sort of character development. Despite strongly established starting characteristics, which include obvious foibles, none of the protagonists evolve throughout the game. Their starting traits are essentially the same at the conclusion of the game. Granted, the happily-ever-after ending sees them all in various satisfying and amusing situations that add to the game’s overall nostalgic value. It is, however, unfortunate that none of their well developed foibles are ever addressed, despite obvious opportunities to do so.

Perhaps more contributory to Trine’s nostalgic fairy tale nature is the narration. Instead of allowing the story to unfold through cut-scenes or gameplay, Frozenbyte created Trine as a pseudo-frame story, with an independent and omniscient narrator reciting the three protagonists’ tale between levels. It harkens back to being tucked into bed at night and read to by a loving parent. At the least, it’s just as familiar and comfortable.

The overall experience of Trine is enhanced by stunning environments and art design. Fitting the fairy tale story, environments range from forests to caverns to dungeons. Colors are vibrant throughout with the inclusion of gorgeous detail such as giant fluorescent flowers and mushrooms, tiny glowing insects that swarm around lamps, and molten lava that heats and distorts the air. A pause in gameplay is required to appreciate all of the striking minutiae placed in each scene of the game.

Trine is a joy to experience. It is not action-packed, fast-paced, or adrenaline-pumping as so many games strive to be today. Instead, in its nostalgic nature, it aspires to be thoughtful, familiar, and ultimately comfortable. Comfort is not a metric typically used to evaluate videogames, but Trine achieves the maximum comfort level possible, and as a result, provides for a memorable experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment