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It may be full of nightmares, but this adventure is a pleasant dream.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is a puzzle-platforming game where you control three separate characters, switching between them on the fly. Each character has their own distinct abilities: Amadeus the Wizard can create boxes and move things with telekinesis, Pontius the Knight can use physical strength to attack enemies and launch objects, and Zoya the Thief can fire arrows and swing from a rope that can be attached to obstacles. Each level in the game is made up of a series of puzzles that require you to use all three characters’ abilities to move forward—many of which will need multiple characters’ skills at the same time.
The way the varied skill sets of the characters combine with each other allow for a lot of complex puzzle design without relying on anything too obtuse. Amadeus can conjure a box to act as an anchor point for Zoya to swing from. Zoya can attach her rope to two points for Pontius to use as a platform to launch a steel ball on. Pontius can slam into the ground, launching one of Amadeus’ boxes into the air. The synergy between the cast keeps everything at a quick pace as you switch back and forth between characters to take advantage of different abilities.
The thing that surprised me the most was how often the game would introduce new abilities for each party member to increase the depth of puzzle solving. Amadeus can eventually summon multiple objects with different shapes and properties; Pontius’ shield gains the ability to create a magical projection of itself to redirect water or reflected light in different directions; Zoya gains elemental properties to her arrows—the list goes on, and it feels like it never stops right up to the end of the adventure. The new abilities you gain over the adventure help keep puzzles from getting stale, and they do an incredible job of expanding your range of options without breaking the game open. When Amadeus received the ability to teleport several feet in front of him I expected it would trivialize puzzles too much that I could cheese through the rest of the game easily. What it did instead was open the door for puzzles where I had to clear large gaps or teleport quickly through a closing door. Every time I thought I had reached the limit of what puzzles were capable of, a new ability would expand them even further.
Although the puzzles remain excellent through the whole game, the regular instances of combat drag down the pace of the adventure a lot. Every few minutes you’ll be locked into an encounter with monsters that need to be killed before you can proceed. Combat isn’t very fun since Pontius’ ground pound move is so much better at defeating monsters than anything else in the game; the only move that can do nearly as much damage is Amadeus slamming a box into an enemy’s head, but since he’s completely vulnerable while trying that, you’d be better off just using Pontius anyway. Every encounter feels the same, and they occur so often that it gets repetitive and dull very quickly. I wish the combat could be disabled because it’s the single significant blemish on an otherwise excellent game.
After a decade of seeing the series recommended everywhere, Trine 4 is my first time playing the series, and it’s made me realize just what I’ve been missing all these years. Unfortunately I didn’t have anyone to play the co-op modes with me—which have unique puzzles that require multiple players to act independently at the same time—but even playing the entire game solo I still had an absolute blast from start to finish, and performance on the Switch version keeps a consistent locked framerate throughout (the resolution in handheld can drop pretty low during some of the busier scenes). The combat is an unfortunate drag, but the puzzles stand on their own so well that it’s worth pushing through the dull battles to keep solving more of them until you’ve found the Nightmare Prince.