The puzzles strike a brilliant balance between being too prescribed and letting you brute force them with cheap tricks. In almost every case it felt like the solution was something I came up with myself, even though I’m sure I sometimes did exactly what the designers had intended and other times got away with something they never foresaw. Compared to previous games I also found there were fewer frustratingly confusing puzzles; at most I had to spend five minutes experimenting before I had a brainwave.
The heroes gain new abilities as you go, meaning a constant stream of new puzzle types and more complex solutions. The late game does get a bit obtuse, introducing some abilities that mess around with regular physics and gravity, but for the most part things ramp up really smoothly.
Some of the most fiendish puzzles are reserved for totally optional secret areas, with most levels hiding three treasures for completionists to track down. As you play you also need to make sure to grab as many floating bottles as you can, because these allow you to unlock unnecessary (but fun) additional abilities.
While I love the slower, more cerebral pace of playing on my own and switching manually between the three characters, Trine 4 is clearly tuned for multiplayer. In “classic” mode you can have up to three players working together locally or online, each as one of the heroes. You have a lot more options for manouvering in multiplayer, so puzzles are tweaked to demand simultanous actions. This also means that compared to previous games it’s lot harder to cheese your way through by levitating your friends.
If you’re really into anarchy you can play in “unlimited” mode, where up to four players can can switch their character at will. With four wizards throwing bouncy spheres around it can feel a bit more like a playground than a series of intelligent puzzles, but again the obstacles are tuned to take this into account and force groups to switch it up.
Outside of the puzzles, Trine 4 offers more of the wonderful fantasy settings and whimsical music the series is known for. This time the trio has been called upon not by a mystical artefact, but by a wizarding college which has accidentally made a royal mess of crown prince Selius. The boy has been exposed to magic that manifests his own dark dreams — and those of the folk around him — into terrifying creatures, and our heroes must track him through perilous marshes, flower-filled gardens and blueberry forests as his powers wreak havoc behind him.
The dream motif makes for some interesting sequences and a few great boss battle puzzles, but as ever the story is little more than an excuse to drag our heroes through the gorgeous and puzzle-filled environments. Luckily the frequent quipping of the main characters — and the various adorable animals and magical creatures you interact with along the way — keep things from feeling like an uninterrupted sequence of puzzles and fights.
And speaking of fights, the occasional combat scenarios still feel weak compared to the game’s puzzle-solving. Enemy creatures are generic, and while Amadeus and Zoya do learn some interesting fighting skills the arenas are too cramped to experiment when playing solo. More often then not I just used Pontius to slash and stomp everything down and then move on. Fighting is fractionally more fun with friends, especially once your abilities let the non-knight players hold enemies in place to set them up for a stomping.
Overall this is an excellent refinement of a unique and worthwhile game with smarter controls, more satisfying multiplayer, heaps of great puzzles and a more magical look and sound than ever. It’s still not perfect, but Trine has come a long way in 10 years and there really is nothing else like it.
Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is out on October 8 for Switch (reviewed), PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.