‘Trine 2’ a charming fairy tale

The year of 2011 may become known as the year games got pretty again. While the biggest releases were of the inevitable grey and brown military variety, a slew of absolutely stunning and imaginative games like “Outland,” “El Shaddai” and “Rayman Origins” recaptured the visual splendor of the games of yesteryear. Not to be outdone, “Trine 2” squeezes in at the end of the year and backs up drool-inducing visuals with clever puzzle-based 2-D gameplay.

“Trine 2” is a simple but charming ode to well-worn fantasy tropes such as dragons, magical forests, goblins, and the like. A seemingly sentient artifact called the Trine summons three heroes to rescue a princess from the clutches of her evil sister, which, of course, calls for an epic quest. Enter Amadeus, the cowardly wizard who can’t get the hang of casting fireballs, Pontius, the battle-hungry knight, and Zoya, the thief who’s in it for the treasure. The characters are cliché and the plot itself is as shallow as a gnome’s swimming pool, but witty lines about why coconuts aren’t called cocofruit and other such “character” moments will put a smile on your face.

Questing alone means that the player will only control one character onscreen at a time, but they can switch between them instantly, which is vital to overcoming the game’s myriad obstacles. The knight can block enemy arrows with his shield, smash through rocks with a hammer and slash through waves of monsters with ease. The thief’s arrows and grappling hook let her take a long-ranged approach to combat, and the wizard is no good in a fight, but can conjure up platforms out of thin air and manipulate objects in the environment such as giant plants to create new pathways. The distinct strengths and weaknesses of each character make for a rewarding learning curve, and by the end of the game, you’ll be able to instinctually tell which character is best suited for any given situation.

The combat is fluid but straightforward, and the same can be said for the game’s leveling system. At no point does “Trine 2” devolve into a mindless hack and slash role-playing game. The focus is on the game’s many puzzles and takes advantage of the impressive physics engine under the hood. Fooling around with the wizard’s ability to levitate enemies and control the environment leads to some truly creative and fun gameplay. The difficulty level of “Trine 2’s” puzzles is well-balanced and an optional hint system means that no one should get stuck in a rut for too long, but well-hidden collectibles provide an extra challenge for the brain teaser crowd.

While “Trine 2” is great as a single player game, I recommend playing with a couple of friends. In the multiplayer mode, each player controls a character, and must work together to solve puzzles in new ways that wouldn’t be possible if playing alone. For instance, the knight can use his shield as a platform for the wizard, and the thief’s freeze arrows can hold baddies in place long enough for the knight to shatter them. “Trine 2” offers one of the most fulfilling cooperative gaming experiences of the year for those not interested in shooting games or online games like “World of Warcraft.”

The campaign is around six to seven hours long, but gamers looking to squeeze some extra value for their dollar should look into the game’s Unlimited Mode, which allows for any combination of the game’s three playable characters to team up. Want to play online as three knights? It may not be the most sound tactical decision, but it’s definitely a lot of fun to mess around with.

“Trine 2” is most definitely the fairest in the land when it comes to fantasy games. The lush, luminous forests and sunsets are so gorgeous that you’ll find yourself stopping and staring like a dwarf eyeing a pile of gold. “Angry Birds” composer Ari Pulkkinen creates a charming and pleasant medley of Renaissance-era tunes that make your quest feel epic and fantastical, and the voice of a wizened narrator reinforces the fairytale feel.

“Trine 2” is one of the best-looking games of the year, and one of the most fun co-operative gaming experiences ever. For the low price of only $15, this is one fairy tale you should believe in.