Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince (Switch) Review
Every now and then, you come across a game that is almost flawless. Where everything about it — the story, the visuals, the gameplay — is absolutely incredible, but it’s just held back by this one tiny thing. Trine 4, for me, is one of these games. It’s a near-flawless gem of a game, and easily one of the best puzzle platformers not just on the Switch, but on any platform in recent history. But despite everything it gets right, there’s one major aspect of the game that puts a stain on the whole experience. But we’ll get to that later.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is the fourth game in the Trine series (duh), a series of 2D (but sometimes 3D) puzzle platformers by Finnish developers Frozenbyte. In it, you take control of 3 heroes — Zoya the Thief, Amadeus the Wizard, and Pontius the Knight — as they bumble their way through the world, solving puzzles and generally trying to make the world a better place, with varying levels of success. Each hero has their own special skills and abilities; Zoya is equipped with a bow and arrows, Amadeus is able to summon and place magical objects, and Pontius is armed with a sword and shield. These skills are conveniently exactly what’s needed to complete each puzzle in the game, and more abilities are unlocked as you progress, but really, it’s more as you need them.
There’s also a glut of optional abilities, which can be unlocked upon collecting special vials hidden throughout the world. Some of these optional abilities are an excellent addition, like the ability to levitate enemies to keep them out of the way or magnetise summoned objects so they don’t fall, while others are… less than useful. One ability, Bouncy Ball, adds the option for Amadeus to summon a bouncy ball, similar in size to his Conjured Ball, except… bouncy. That’s it, it doesn’t do anything else (at least as far as I can tell), it just bounces around the place. I don’t think there’s inherently anything wrong with that, there’s nothing saying you can’t just have a fun, silly ability, especially since you can unlearn abilities at any time and put them into another skill without a penalty. It’s just a bit strange, overall, to have abilities that essentially do nothing.
The puzzles, themselves, are nothing short of incredible, both in concept and execution. Puzzles in games like this need to be challenging, but not frustrating, and Trine 4 strikes this balance perfectly, with almost every puzzle exciting and enticing me to solve it. The best part is that the puzzles you see before you aren’t always the only puzzles you’re able to solve — hidden throughout the world are secret puzzles, some simple and some hidden far within the depths of the world. These secret puzzles are usually much more challenging than the puzzles throughout the main game, but are similarly not frustrating in the slightest. Completing these optional challenges scattered throughout the world might earn you a few more upgrade vials, or a secret item, like a letter, treasure, or knicknacks that can be used to solve the final(ish) puzzle. I won’t spoil that for you, but it’s an incredibly clever idea, the way in which this puzzle has been implemented into the game.
Puzzles can be solved in co-op, too, which is available both via local wireless and online with friends or random parties. I wasn’t able to test this in any great depth during the review period, but one instance of online multiplayer I was able to get running seemed to work flawlessly, and I’d expect that to be the same (for the most part) when the game launches.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my opening paragraph, there is one major stain on Trine 4 that holds it back from being a truly perfect game: the combat. Combat is not particularly common, thankfully, but you can expect to fight at least one group of enemies per level, and that’s enough to really get a taste of how jarring it can be. It’s not that the combat is inherently bad or out of place, it’s just not particularly fun in the slightest. Each of your heroes is technically equipped with combat skills — Zoya can fire arrows at enemies, Amadeus can hit them with summoned objects, and Pontius… has a sword and shield. And that’s kind of the problem here.
Every single character dies incredibly quickly, so some of the more complex tasks that require aiming or good timing, like firing arrows, just aren’t viable strategies when you’ve got half a dozen enemies aiming for your head. So, in the vast majority of cases, it’s better to stick with Pontius, mash the attack button, and hope he lasts long enough to defeat them all. And if he doesn’t you have two other characters to try and stall with until he respawns. There’s a giant wolf boss quite early into the game, before you have any of the worthwhile combat abilities, that is genuinely one of the worst gameplay experiences I’ve had on the Switch. Combat might be a little more interesting and fun in multiplayer — I, unfortunately, have not had the opportunity to test this — but I suspect it would likely still result in Pontius doing all the work and Zoya and Amadeus running around, trying not to die.
That aside, there’s still a lot to love about Trine 4, especially on Switch. The visuals are pristine, both in handheld and docked, with a wide variety of attractive and visually appealing environments on offer. The game runs smoothly 99% of the time, with only very minor (and very brief) drops in framerate in some effects-heavy areas. And the music is a nice, inoffensive backing track, which is just about the best thing you could say about music you might be stuck listening to for hours while trying to solve a puzzle. All three main characters are expertly characterised and extremely well-acted, and the story is a charming, if nothing particularly special, romp through a fantasy wonderland. It all comes together in an immensely satisfying way.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is hands down one of the best titles in the puzzle platformer genre. It’s packed densely with charm, enjoyable gameplay, and some damn good puzzles. The combat leaves a lot to be desired, and there are times when it can be unbearable, but that’s a price worth paying when the rest of the game is so astonishingly good.
+ Fantastic puzzling
+ Challenging but not frustrating
+ Looks incredible on Switch
- Combat is terrible
- Story is nothing special
- Some abilities are useless