Monday, February 28, 2022

Majora's Mask @ Nintendo Switch Online

Nintendo Switch Online logo above package of Majora's Mask for N64

The Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack has been a mixed bag, where the only exclusive thing so far are the Nintendo 64 games, but the emulation efforts were a new low for Nintendo. The input lag is quite high, the games look(ed) weird, there is no button remapping, and it all just doesn't feel like it's worth the extra 20€ per year.

Now, last Friday, on February 25th, Nintendo has added The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask to this list, but also updated the Nintendo 64 application to version 2.0.0. This video by ZFG provides a good overview of what was done, where Ocarina of Time now looks much closer to the original with certain effects, like the fog, restored, while the input lag was also reduced a bit.

This is great, in some aspects the games are now even better than on Wii (U), where certain textures have been improved, like for example the flames. But overall this still seems to be the worst option for replaying the Nintendo 64 classics. As of now, I would only recommend the Expansion Pack to people for whom the Nintendo Switch really is the only way of playing these games.

Still, with the release of Majora's Mask, porting over The Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD feels all the more inviting, because then we would have a collection of all 3D Zelda games on the Nintendo Switch.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Pile of Shame

a whole bunch of Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, and Switch games

This week Nintendo has announced that they will close the eShop for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U in March 2023 (see here). They are also offering a page for your Nintendo 3DS and Wii U memories, where you can take a look at your play history, though with some bugs and issues (for me it shows 700 more hours in StreetPass Mii Plaza than I actually have).

Anyway, this was another painful reminder of all the games that I have yet to play or beat on these systems, despite owning them. My backlog includes Fire Emblem Awakening, Fire Emblem Fates, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, Luigi's Mansion, Luigi's Mansion 2, Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2, Splatoon, and more...

I wanted most of these simply for my collection, but it's still irking me from time to time. Meanwhile my Nintendo Switch collection kept growing and looks very similar by now, where the situation won't be resolved any time soon, or ever, because the new system has my primary attention. So, if I'm starting to clear house, it will be on Nintendo Switch, where games like Fire Emblem Warriors, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Xenoblade Chronicles, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and even Cadence of Hyrule are still waiting to get said attention. The last Nintendo Direct was another reminder of this, where most of these games are getting a sequel in 2022.

It also doesn't help that I've re-purchased some of the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U games that I actually had beaten / completed, like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Hyrule Warriors, again for the Nintendo Switch, because I liked them so much that I may want to play them again on the new system. Or that Nintendo decided to add content to the games that I already had completed, like Metroid Dread or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. It just never ends...

Let's not start talking about digital libraries, though I'm mostly a physical collector when it comes to Nintendo, but I have some Steam sale skeletons in the closet as well, where the biggest ones are DOOM (2016) and Skyrim. Yes, I have never played Skyrim. Shame on me.

And most people who are interested in gaming have this problem: the so called "pile of shame" (commonly known as "backlog"). Whether you got the games because you are a collector or because they were cheap, it doesn't really matter, you've purchased a whole stack of products that you will likely never consume. And this often includes games that are generally regarded to be good, where many will advise you to finally play them.

But why haven't you? And should you really be ashamed that you haven't played these games yet? Or is it actually the other way around? Should maybe these games be ashamed that you couldn't be bothered to play them, despite all their accolades? Or is it just so that you haven't found the time yet?

Here is the thing: if you really want to play a game, you will make time to play it. Of course this isn't always easy, because life has so many more priorities, but when a game truly appeals to you, you won't be procrastinating it for months or even years. You will eventually find the time to play it, because it gives you the kind of enjoyment that you seek in your free time.

That's not to say that those virgin games are terrible, but they simply might not be for you, at least in the moment. In my case I really have to be in the mood to play the very slow-paced Fire Emblem games for example, which I rarely ever am. But this may change in the future.

And this is also a good point. It can't hurt to have these games ready for when you're finally ready for them, even when this may never happen. In the past, with all my video game systems prior to the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, I only ever purchased the games that I truly wanted to play at the time. This was a very good consumer behavior and also helps with avoiding such a pile of shame in the first place. But then I got interested in some other games years later, only to realize that they were now hard to find in a good shape, because they weren't officially sold any longer. So, I found it more regretful to not own an interesting game that I could have bought back in the day than owning a game that I didn't play in the end. The latter can always be sold if I really don't want it any longer.

So, these are two sides of the same coin. And it certainly helps to view your unplayed games not as a "pile of shame", but as a box of toys, as a collection for your future entertainment whenever you want it. The more you feel an obligation to play all your games in possession, the more you're likely to be demotivated right away. But the best games are timeless anyway, so there is no need to hurry. Or... maybe I'm simply here to justify why I haven't played Three Houses yet. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, as it always is...

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince

The Trine series went astray with its third title, but then found back to its root thanks to Trine 4: The Nightmare Princess in 2019, where FrozenByte focused on their strengths and tried to live up to the quality and content of the second game. Thus, Trine 4 is played as a side-scroller once more and also returns the Experience system with its learnable abilities for the three heroes.

The biggest change this time is probably the visual style, because it looks more like it was painted, which is quite apparent with the characters. Though, at least they don't look as uncanny as they did in Trine 3... But the completely realistic look of the first two games is now gone, where Trine 4 still looks very beautiful despite this or even because of this, since such styles tend to be more timeless (see The Wind Waker vs. Twilight Princess). Still, Trine 2 looked a little bit more impressive overall, even though it's eight years older, but both games are very beautiful in their own right.

Amadeus at a snowy mountain hut in the beginning of the game

The story of the fourth game is all about the impetuous Prince Selius, who is a student at the Astral Academy and whose nightmares come alive after he tampered with the wrong spell book. The three heroes now have the task to bring him back to the academy and that's really all there is to it. Of course you'll learn more about the prince's backgrounds, but you shouldn't expect too much. Aside from some hidden references, there is also no real explanation as to what happened during the rest of Trine 3, like the fate of the Trine. It's simply a new adventure with the three heroes, nothing more and nothing less, where the humorous interactions between the very different characters are always the focus. So, laugh Trine 3 off and move on.

Even though the third game's story is of no importance here, some of the game's positive aspects found their way into the sequel. The most important one is probably the map from where you can select the different levels. With the exception of a single bonus DLC level ("Toby's Dream"), they are all played in a given order again, just like in Trine and Trine 2, so this shouldn't be taken for granted and this is mainly about collecting things that you've missed the first time.

Each level got divided into checkpoints again, where for every section it tells you how much Experience there is to find in total and how much you've actually found. And you can skip right to the checkpoints where you might have missed something, so it's just like in Trine 3. It doesn't work as nicely, however, because the divisions are entirely based on coordinates and not on how you progress naturally through a level. Let's say the game shows you that you're missing something in the seventh area, but you're unable to find anything at all there, even though you've searched high and low. Then it might turn out that what you are missing is only accessible from the previous section, where it's laid out in a way that you won't notice this from where you've entered the level. And that's unfortunate.

It's still better in Trine 2, where you had to search through the entire level again if you were missing something. It's a lot more motivating when the game narrows it down for you and also gives you the option to go back right away, because then you can conveniently clear all the levels one after another, instead of doing a second search through everything later

But the Experience system and the abilities of the heroes have been streamlined in comparison to Trine 2 as well. Zoya, the thief, for example now can only attach her ropes to predefined anchors, usually in the form of metal rings, just like in Trine 3. This is unlike the first two games, where you could use your grappling hook on anything made out of wood. As a compensation, she can now tie the rope between two objects and even use it as a bridge. Also, she can use her ropes on the objects made by the wizard, Amadeus, which in the original 2D games only worked with the floating platform. This is very powerful in singleplayer mode, where you can switch freely between all three characters. And you can clearly notice how the level designers tried to build around this fact, usually with obstacles for the wizard's objects.

Learning new abilities works mostly like in the second game, but Trine 4 differentiates between two types of Experience: there are the usual bubbles and bottles, which you can find in the environment, and also the new stars, which are obtained from defeating enemies. The latter automatically unlock new abilities, which are required to proceed in the level. This can be new objects for the wizard or the elemental arrows for the thief. The latter are especially useful this time, where the Ice Arrows not only allow for platforms on the water, but you can also use them to freeze most mechanics, which helps with a majority of the puzzles. Actually, the Ice Arrows are so good in this game that the Zelda series should take notes.

The first Trine already had these type of mandatory upgrades, where there you found them in chests at certain points, like the Hammer or the Fire Arrows. This has the advantage that the developers can directly involve these items and abilities in their puzzle design, where they might create puzzles that require you to use certain skills in combination. But this also takes away from the creative freedom in puzzle solving that Trine 2 had, where you were given obstacles and could overcome them in many different ways. It's not that Trine 4 doesn't have anything like it, especially the later game has some very good brain teasers, but often there is a much clearer attempt of how to approach certain puzzles, which can be a little bit boring.

Another result of the Experience system in Trine 4 is that you only fight against enemies in set places, where you have to defeat them all in order to proceed, since this is the only way to guarantee that you will have collected enough Experience for the next required ability. And this is also a bit boring, because you won't find enemies everywhere any longer. You either solve puzzles or you fight, but rarely ever both.

thief and knight fighting a fire and an ice spider in a garden level... the thief shoots an ice arrow at the fire spider

You can also often see the enemies coming in advance, where dark clouds and walls forebode the impending dangers. So, the times of Goblin ambushes or dragons suddenly descending upon you are over. You only get the nightmare battles, which can also be rather annoying, where for example you have force fields around enemies stemming from another, who you then have to defeat first. And it all just feels too streamlined, where the fighting aspect of Trine 4 overall isn't as much fun.

Anyway, the other abilities, which you can unlock from the optional Experience, mostly serve you in battle and can be reset at any time, so you can redistribute your Experience. But because of the split this is also not as interesting as in Trine 2, where for example it was a good idea to get the Gravity Arrows early. Those don't return in Trine 4, by the way, the same with the Bomb Arrows, but this doesn't mean that the thief got nerfed badly.

Quite the opposite, actually. She now has so called "Fairy Ropes", where she can let objects levitate like a ballon and attach them to an anchor point or a grounded object. This also works with the wizard's objects, since those are a grappling hook target. And with this there are virtually no limits in the verticality, which reflects in the level design quite often. The obstacles are usually construed in the horizontal with abysses and alike, and you rarely get Experience bubbles floating high up in the air, like they often did in Trine 2, simply because collecting them is now absolutely trivial thanks to the Fairy Ropes.

The other two heroes didn't see as many changes, where the wizard is mostly the same, except that he now can summon metal balls, which withstand all sorts of hazards that would usually break his boxes or blanks. There is also a rubber ball variant for lots of nonsense. The knight lost his hammer, but he now uses the power of lightning with both sword and shield to temporarily stun foes. He can also create "Dream Shields", which remain in place, so that you can reflect beams around multiple corners. One of those Dream Shields can even be magnetized in the late game, which is as useful as the Fairy Ropes and one of the few optional puzzle solving abilities, one that also lets the characters work together in new ways.

Apropos working together, the cooperative multiplayer offers both the Classic Mode, where each hero can only be present once in the game, and the Free Mode, where every player can freely chose between all three heroes at any time. In the past the latter made things a lot easier, naturally, which is why in Trine 4 the puzzles get modified for this mode, so that they make good use of the fact that the same character can exist twice. Like, you may have to stand back to back as knights, blocking attacks coming from both sides. Or you'll need more than three chests to solve a puzzle. This was usually achieved by removing things from the environment, like anchor points for Zoya's ropes, where you then have to make good use of the extra objects from the wizards. But this is interesting and also adds some replay value, along with the different difficulty settings.

One last thing of note is the soundtrack by Ari Pulkkinen, which is overall pretty good, as usual, but might not stick with you as much as the music from the previous games. This probably has to do with the fact that Trine 4 is all about dreams and therefore creates a more faraway atmosphere. But it's certainly not as imposing as the more powerful music in the first three games, where the soundtrack is still the best thing about the otherwise disappointing Trine 3.

Trine 4: Melody of Mystery

The PC version of Trine 4 also has an expansion, called Melody of Mystery, which extends the base game by six crazy levels, much like The Goblin Menace before it. The base game has 18 levels in total, by the way, plus the aforementioned free bonus level Toby's Dream, making this the longest Trine game as of yet in terms of bare numbers.

Zoya surrounded by lots of mechanical gears with beautiful sun rays shining through

In the expansion the three heroes enter the dreams of different academy students to free them from some sort of sleeping curse. These students were all playable characters in the "Trineverse" spin-off title, Nine Parchments, but you don't need to have played this game to understand what's going on. You will get to know all these characters by literally diving into their dreams, which offer a unique understanding of their personalities.

The DLC is already worth it for these creative ideas alone, as well as some of the best puzzles in the game. It's not as a good as The Goblin Menace, however, which has some of the best, largest, and craziest levels in the series. Also, the expansion isn't available on consoles as of yet, where FrozenByte is apparently still working on that...


Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince is a return to form for the Trine saga, where this is pretty much on par with the excellent second game. It does a variety of things differently, where this can be better or worse, depending on the taste of the player. But it offers the same level of quality and slightly more content, where Trine 2 and Trine 4 represent the best of what the series has to offer – a series that is rather unique with its physic-based puzzles and platforming in a fantasy-themed world. So, let's hope that a potential fifth game can follow these examples.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power

Trine 3 logo

After the success of Trine 2, its developers moved on to create something very different, ultimately creating the black sheep of the series, which is quite unique and also unusually short in comparison. This is fairly known, but you really have to play it yourself to truly understand the extent of this experiment, which released back in 2015.

The main difference is that Trine 3 plays in 3D. Well, it's not completely 3D, since the camera is still fixed, but you are able to walk from and to the screen, unlike all the other Trine games. And this takes some getting used to at the beginning, especially with Amadeus the wizard, because you now can move his boxes on three axis instead of just two, which really made controlling things much more complicated.

all three heroes in front of a wrecked ship at a beach

Still, the start of the game actually is very impressive. The soundtrack by Ari Pulkkinen is simply beautiful, maybe even the best of the entire series, and the levels look equally beautiful, especially the wrecked ship at the beach, which is where you start as Amadeus. The 3D works mostly fine and gets used in a creative way to create new types of puzzles. It's a breath of fresh air, where at first it seems like this could be really the future of Trine, or maybe co-exist with traditional 2D games.

The story seems really promising as well, which goes back to the first Trine and finally wants to explore the origins of the eponymous artifact. This also includes the antagonist Sarek once more, who seemingly is to the Trine what Ganon is to the Triforce, even though it's slightly unclear how it still all fits together with the undead lord of the first title. Like in Trine 2, the game starts with the summoning the heroes, this time to stop a fierce monster from attacking the Astral Academy. But the Trine does so in very inconvenient moments for them all, like ripping Amadeus out of his vacation. And this makes the heroes want to finally get rid of it, which of course only makes things worse...

So far, so good. But once you start diving deeper into the adventure, you will quickly notice how it's simply not on par with the quality of its predecessors. This starts with how odd the heroes look this time and their lack of unlockable abilities. Collecting Experience in the environment or from defeated enemies to obtain new skills, like additonal objects for the wizard, was always fun and interesting. It was also useful, because these abilities helped with solving puzzles, overcoming obstacles, or fighting enemies in various ways.

That's all history in Trine 3. Except for the Kitesail Shield, which Pontius has from the start this time, so he can float through the air, all of the heroes simply get their default abilities. Single arrows for Zoya, only one box for Amadeus. No fire arrows, no planks, no hammer, or anything like that... And the only real new thing is that Zoya can use her ropes in different ways, like pulling or connecting objects, but at the same time she got also more restricted, where the ropes only work on given anchor points.

This change influences the level design quite tremendously, which feels a lot more one-sided despite going into the third dimension. A specialty of the Trine games has always been that there was a variety of solutions for the same problem. It partially even allowed to only play a single character for an entire level. But in Trine 3 there are many obstacles that can only be overcome by a specific character, which is why the multiplayer only supports the "free mode", where every player can play as any character without restrictions. So, you might have three knights running around at the same time, which can make things quite confusing, because you lose sight of who is who. At the same the puzzles and obstacles became much easier than in the previous games, since it all had to be simplified for the 3D gameplay and the basic abilities.

Since there are no new abilities to unlock, there is also no Experience to collect. Instead you'll find "Trineangles" (what a funny pun), which can be hidden anywhere in the levels and cleverly so, just like the Experience used to be. And this is where Trine 3 has actually improved something, because each level now gets divided into sections, where you can select the individual sections from the main map, which is also new. It shows you for each section how many Trineangles you're still missing if any, which makes collecting everything so much easier and enjoyable, because you can skip right to the part where you are missing something, instead of searching through the whole level again and again.

The Triangles don't really have much of a use, however. They unlock additional bonus levels on the map, often created for a single character, which can be small obstacle courses or trials with lots of enemies, where the latter are way too hard to beat in singleplayer. Should you die in multiplayer, one of your teammates can revive you by staying near your "ghost", which effectively gives you additional lives. This is even needed quite often to overcome the tougher (boss) battles, but simply not possible in singleplayer. There it's a Game Over right away, which may leave you demotivated and frustrated from the rather unbalanced fights.

Pontius flying through a tube of revolving gears

Anyway, while these bonus levels are challenging, you will only earn even more Trineangles from them, potentially unlocking other bonus levels with no actual reward other than the busy work. And this doesn't seem like this was really thought through by the developers, where this is far from the only dissonance in this game..

Sometimes it's missing audio lines, where dialogues can be very weird. The fights can be quite unbalanced, as already mentioned. And then there are crazy bugs, like weird physics or going out of bounds to walk in a void. From a certain point on the game feels rather unfinished...

And that's because it is. After the first major boss battle the story seems to be at a third and there is even a cliffhanger, where the antagonist presents you with another ace up his sleeve. You're getting ready for a long and fierce adventure. But this is where the credits roll and the game suddenly ends. Just like that. In the middle of the story. Trine 3 is an unfinished game, which feels more like a long demo of a game that's still early in its beta version. And for the consumer this is simply shocking and very disappointing, especially after the high quality of the first two Trine games.

According to Frozenbyte, they underestimated the efforts of making this in 3D, where the development  ran out of budget and couldn't be salvaged without creating even more costs. So, they dumped what they had on the market. Originally, it was planned to finish the story via DLC, but naturally the title performed very poorly, so they had to move on and make fourth game that builds upon their strengths, where now the fans will have to forever live with the cliffhanger of the third part...



Cobbler, stick to your last! With Trine 3: The Artifacts of Power and its 3D gameplay the developers wanted to move the franchise into a new direction, but failed miserably under their own ambitions. The beginning of the game is actually quite excellent, leaving a good first impression with beautiful visuals, fantastic music, and a fresh approach by going into the depths of the game world. But the game quickly loses itself in an unfinished state, riddled with bugs, plagued by unfair battles, and lacking the proven Experience system, where the worst part is that Trine 3 simply ends in the middle of the story.

Trine 2

Trine 2 logo

One word to describe Trine 2 would "gorgeous". It's without a doubt one of the most beautiful side scrollers ever made and still holds up very nicely for a game that's over ten years old by now, first released at the end of 2011. The visuals can feel a little bit cluttered at first, maybe even overwhelming, because it's all so detailed and colorful, but you get used to it and may even fall in love with it. Combined with the fantastic soundtrack, it just creates an impressive experience to behold.

Zoya standing in a lush forest cave in front of a treasure chest

It can also be seen as the pinnacle of the series, where it not only looks the prettiest, it has improved upon many aspects of the first game. If you only have time and money for one of the Trine games, then it should be without a doubt Trine 2.

The story also allows for it, because it's mostly independent from the rest. Some time after the events of the first game the Trine summons the heroes once more and sends them into a distant kingdom riddled with Goblins. There they get to meet a mysterious witch named Rosabel, who reveals herself to be the crown princess, and the adventure unfolds from there...

Anyway, if you enjoy looking for hidden things in platformers, like the star coins in various Super Mario games or the puzzle pieces in the Donkey Kong Country saga, then Trine 2 has you covered with all its secrets throughout the levels, mainly the Experience. In the first game this stuff was mostly easy to find, but not so here, where you have to be really observant and also really creative. It has by far some of the craziest secrets in the series.

However, there is the problem of completion, where the game will tell you how much Experience there is to find in each level and how much you've already found, the same with the hidden treasure chests. But the levels can be very long, where you'll have to search through everything all over again for the one last bit that you might be missing... It's not required of course, you can actually play through the entire game without collecting anything (though it will be very challenging without any additional abilities), but for perfectionists and completionists this can be annoying.

In any case, the key to solving everything are the abilities of your heroes, where they've gained a couple more in the sequel. For example, the thief now has a variety of different arrow types: Fire Arrows, Ice Arrows, Bomb Arrows, and Gravity Arrows, which all can be unlocked one after another. Most of these are like you know them from the Zelda series, but the Gravity Arrows are certainly special. On impact they create a low gravity bubble, which lets anything inside float and also move slower. Your own speed isn't hindered as much, however, and you can nicely use these fields for puzzles and combat alike. The Bomb Arrows are as strong and powerful as you would expect, but you can also create a low gravity bubble, start firing lots of Bombs Arrows inside, which then will hail all at once at your enemies once they leave the bubble. It's these type of interactions which make the game so much fun.

thief and knight against a Goblin shaman on a Japanese themed sky island

The knight can now use his shield as a glider and even magnetize it to attract and repel metallic objects, including those made by the wizard. All of these useful abilities are unlocked and upgraded in a skill tree via your collected Experience. Unlike in the first game, you can always redistribute your gained Experience in case you want to try something different.

There is also no fixed progression with your abilities, so it's really up to you what might be the most useful for your personally. This leads to the most free form puzzle design in the series, because you are often presented with obstacles that encourage different approaches based on what abilities you have and what might be the easiest for you. Of course you can also make things needlessly complicated for yourself, but it doesn't really matter, as long as you make it to the goal somehow.

It's not just about the abilities, however, where the levels often provide a variety of elements that need to be put in the right way. Those can be teleportals or pipes to route streams of air or fire. And this is where the wizard comes in, who can levitate pretty much anything that's not fixed, even enemies this time.

Trine 2: The Goblin Menace

The main game has 13 levels in total, one of which is the final boss battle. But there are six more levels available in an expansion, called The Goblin Menace, which includes another nasty boss. In addition, there is a bonus level, the Dwarven Cavern, which got originally made for the Wii U version (Trine 2: Director's Cut). However, if you buy the game now on any current platform, you should get the Complete Story Edition, which includes all 20 levels.

the knight in front of a gigantic scorpion

The expansion is easily the best part of the game, though, where its levels get lengthy and very creative. It starts off with the heroes celebrating in a town after their victory, but then said town gets invaded by Goblins. Those try to get rid of our heroes by throwing them into a desert, where they have to fight through some ancient ruins, only to be swallowed by a giant sand worm à la Dune at the end. Let's just say that this game makes Jabu Jabu's Belly look like a resort in comparison.

It has a lot of variety and the most stunning levels of Trine 2, which makes the main game, which looks already very good, seem almost dull in comparison. So, by saying that Trine 2 is the pinnacle of the series, it's really all about The Goblin Menace. But you want to experience the whole package, of course, where the expansion really builds on the skills that you've learned throughout the main game and puts them to good test.


Trine 2 is Trine at its best. It's a beautiful, beautiful game that nearly has perfected the formula of the series. And that's really all you need to know.

PS: The previous article got updated with some additional paragraphs of things that came up while writing this mini review.

Saturday, February 12, 2022


Trine logo

Trine has been mentioned on this blog a couple of times, where now, after finally completing all four titles, it feels like the right time to offer a look at this particular Action Adventure series in more detail. Let's start by talking about the games in general and by discussing its first iteration, which originally came out in 2009. The other three titles will then be the subject of follow-up posts.


Series Overview

So, what is Trine? Developed by the Finnish indie studio Frozenbyte, Trine is a Fantasy Action Adventure and a level-based, side-scrolling platformer with focus on physic puzzles, where you play as three different characters. The stout knight Pontius fights with sword and shield, sometimes also with a hammer. The beautiful thief Zoya is skilled in archery and uses a grappling hook. And the fruitless wizard Amadeus can levitate objects through the air and also conjure objects of his own, mostly boxes and planks. Each of these characters has their own set of skills and strengths, where combining them is the key to success.

classic artwork of the three heroes standing next to each other

Their different abilities can (with the exception of the third game) be unlocked and upgraded by collecting experience points throughout the levels, which are usually found in the form of bottles or floating orbs in tricky places, but also by defeating enemies. Collecting all Experience in a level is often the real challenge, more so than just overcoming all the obstacles, where it may ask you to reach seemingly unreachable places. And this is where you truly have to test your puzzle solving skills by making best use of your current abilities of the three heroes.

For each puzzle and obstacle there are often a variety of different solutions, which makes this so much more enjoyable. This is a lot like in Breath of the Wild, but long before Breath of the Wild actually did it, where Trine always felt like an inspiration for the newest Zelda, at least when it comes to the usage of physics. But in the time before 2017, where Zelda games usually had just one (obvious) solution for their puzzles, Trine felt truly special. Whether you stack objects as the wizard, swing around as the thief, use brute force as the knight, or combine all their skills in clever ways, the game always stays interesting with its approach and also gains a lot of replay value with it.

It's not all just puzzling and platforming, however, where you'll also run into enemies regularly and usually have to defeat them all in order to advance, which offers the necessary action in this Action Adventure. Here the knight is normally the most useful, but not all is lost should one of the characters die, where depending on the game you can revive them via checkpoints or by standing next to where they have fallen.

The story is quite simple, but gets charmingly told like a fairy tale by a narrator at the beginning of each level. It revolves around the "Trine", one of three artifacts similar to the Triforce. It links the three heroes together and even gathers them to send them on new missions. While the threats are always serious, the very different characters and their interactions provide a lot of humor and charm. A central location to the story is the Astral Academy, where wizards learn their craftsmenship. This is where the three heroes first meet and also find the Trine.

What's absolutely fantastic in all the games is the soundtrack by Ari Pulkkinen, where the music is as beautiful as the games' visuals and accompanies the adventures with very fitting and mostly memorable tunes. Even if you don't want to play the games, you should listen to their soundtrack at least once.

The Trine games are available on all the common platforms, where for Nintendo fans the first two games are on the Wii U and the entire series on Nintendo Switch. The Wii U versions, however, have a much better button layout, which lets you jump with ZL in addition to A. This is crucial, because you need to be able to use the right stick for certain actions (mostly the knight's shield and the thief's bow) while jumping, which simply doesn't work well with the A button.

But for some reason Frozenbyte decided to change this on the Nintendo Switch and unlike the PC versions you can't change the button layout at all. Well, you can change it in the Nintendo Switch system settings and create a preset (or two, because the controls also changed after the second title), but that's quite inconvenient, especially if you want to play other games on the sidelines. So, this is a point of criticism that all those games have in common on the Nintendo Switch, where overall it's recommended to go with the PC versions, unless you want to do couch co-op.

The PC versions simply have the quickest and most precise controls. You can move objects or attach your grappling hook by simply clicking on the things, which is very easy. The Wii U versions also let you use the touchscreen, which can be also quite useful, at least for the wizard's action, but as already said, only the first two games are available here.

the knight and wizard adventuring together through a blue cave on a construcion made out of wooden planks

Cooperative play is also a big aspect of the series. You can play them in singleplayer just fine, but the real fun is playing this with one or two other people. This even lets you do things that wouldn't be possible in singleplayer, like holding a blank in the air as the wizard, while someone else works over it. With three players and fixed characters things can also get more challenging, though, because you always have to find a way for every character to make it past an obstacle. (Depending on the game, version and setup you can warp yourself to the other players in some form.)

And of course you have to find the right people for the job. Maybe you're someone who wants to discover every secret, but you're stuck with people who just want to rush to the end of a level. Or you're stuck with people who take forever for everything, while you just want to rush to the end of a level. So, sometimes it can also be refreshing to simply play the game for yourself at your own pace. Still, you want to give the different ways of playing these games a try.

As for my personal history with the Trine series, it all started in 2013 when I joined two fellow students while playing Trine 2 on the PC. One year later I got the first two games on the PC myself, but also on Wii U, where I've played with some other friends online, and fully completed both games on both systems. Last year a certain someone invited me to play through all four games on the Nintendo Switch in local co-op, but I also played through Trine 4 a second time alone on the PC, where I was finished just yesterday. So, with the exception of Trine 3, I've played through all the games multiple times in very different ways.

There is also a spin-off title, Nine Parchments, which lets you slip into the role of different students from the Astral Academy and gets played like a twin stick shooter from an overhead perspective. This blog series will only cover the main games, though, at least for now.

Trine: Enchanted Edition

In 2014 Frozenbyte has remastered their first Trine in the same engine as the second, making it look and feel much more similar. If you buy the game today, like on Steam or the Nintendo Switch, this will be what you get. It's probably a good idea to start with this title in any case, because it will look very underwhelming compared to the later games. It's not terrible, but far from the excellence of Trine 2 and Trine 4, which are without a doubt the two stars of the series. The game is actually still quite pretty and the soundtrack is nice as well, but it's overall somewhat more dull and less memorable than what the successor(s) had to offer.

The thief aiming at an undead skeleton in a forest with quite the warm bloom in the background

Of course this isn't the fairest comparison, since the series had to start somewhere and many video games had humble beginnings, but keep this in mind when you play this game. The total of 15 levels often also feel a little bit similar, both visually and with their gameplay, where only the later levels stand out, but not exactly for the best reasons. Collecting all the Experience is also not all too challenging, where you will find most of it on your first try.

All of that wouldn't be so bad, but the game also comes with a couple of problems that were eliminated by Trine 2. One of them are the enemies, where in the first title you'll mostly encounter armed, undead skeletons, which may spawn everywhere. Even behind you. And sometimes in intervals of multiple seconds. When you think it's finally over, another skeleton might spawn nearby to annoy you.

Luckily, they don't spawn infinitely, but it keeps going long enough that it might interrupt you when you're already about to solve a puzzle. This was handled much better in Trine 2, but this was also already improved in the Enchanted Edition, which in addition removed the bats from the original game. Those were super hard to hit and could kill you very quickly, where you might have fought your way through an entire army of the undead, only to get defeated by a swarm of bats in the end...

Also, the knight doesn't fare too well in melee combat in this game, even though it's his specialty, and also lacks some better skills, where he feels somewhat useless. So, as a result, while playing a second time on the "Very Hard" difficulty for the Steam Achievements, I mainly resorted to using the wizard and thief. The latter can even use her grappling hook on all wooden surfaces, where there are a lot in the levels, making the singeplayer almost too easy. All of this was balanced much better in Trine 2.

Something that got removed in the later games entirely (expect Nine Parchments) is the energy bar, which limits the usage of magic, like conjuring items and fire arrows (that's the only special arrow type in the first Trine). You have to collect blue bottles or use checkpoints to refill it, which doesn't really add anything to the game. You can blast through everything with fire arrows and get enough energy back, so it doesn't prevent from becoming too overpowered. At the same time you may run out of magic while trying to build something with the wizard, which limits you for no good reason. If you run out, you either have to find another energy bottle or go back to the last checkpoint. It's pointless punishment and was certainly good riddance.

the knight in an underground forge dungeon

What also got removed with Trine 2, but actually was quite good, were the optional items. You can get those from chests, where two of those are hidden within in every level. The later games only offer "useless" collectibles, like paintings, poems, or decor, but Trine actually gives you different items with attributes, like armor, vials, or amulets. Those can raise your defense, your attack power, or even the number of arrows and magic objects, where both can go much higher than usual. Each character gets his or her own inventory with ten slots, where you have to decide who gets what. And this adds a little bit of an RPG element to the game, which is dearly missed in the other Trine titles.

In addition you'll find some major ability upgrades in chests at certain key points in the game. Those can be things like the Fire Arrows, the Hammer, or the ability to create planks, and are usually needed to progress through the game. The abilities then can be upgraded with the Experience that you've collected, where these upgrades are permanent, so you have to make a wise choice which one to boost next.


Trine was overall a solid first entry to the series, which really found its heights with the second game. Still, it's worth checking the first game despite its rough edges, where it even offers an interesting item system, unlike all its successors.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Metroid Dread: Free Updates Announced

Metroid Dread FREE UPDATE

Metroid Dread got its first free update today with the 2.0.0 version, which first and foremost contains two new difficulty modes:

  • In Rookie Mode you get more missiles from the start (30 in total), you will replenish more energy with every health pick-up, while bosses do less damage, some of their projectiles are easier to destroy, and you also get a larger window for their finishing counters.

  • In Dread Mode you will die instantly when anything hits you. The Phantom Cloak and lava will still drain your health normally, though. This new mode only unlocks after beating Hard Mode.

There are also new statistics on the results screen for newly started games, but Nintendo hasn't clarified what those are yet. (I bet it now shows you the number of deaths so people can brag about doing a deathless run in Dread Mode.) 

Update: the new statistics contain the following (thanks to Decapre on GameFAQs for already beating Dread Mode):

  • Difficulty
  • Clear Time
  • Total Play Time
  • Item Collection
  • Energy
  • Missiles
  • Power Bombs
  • Times Defeated
  • Total Damage Received
  • Bosses Defeated
  • Times Saved

So, yeah, this does include the number of deaths, but also how often you've saved for some reason. Energy, Missiles, and Power Bombs are simply your total at the end to get a better view on the item collection if it's not 100%. Clear time and total play time get differentiated now, where the latter includes the time spent with your failed attempts, which gets subtracted for the clear time.

There are no new ending screens for the gallery or anything like this. Beating the game in Dread Mode will simply give you the endings of Hard Mode.

My Opinion:

Well, you don't look a gift horse into the mouth... Still, this is quite the curious gift horse. When it comes to Zelda games I've been an advocate of free updates as long as they were a possibility. A Cave of Ordeals for Ocarina of Time 3D? Gimme! A Boss Rush in A Link Between Worlds? Gimme! More content for the Chamber Dungeon in Link's Awakening? Gimme!

News like this would have gotten me really excited in those cases, but Nintendo has never done any major updates for these 2D games, much to my disappointment. Now, with Metroid Dread on the other hand this is a game that felt very much complete. There was nothing really left to desire here, where the new difficulty modes feel somewhat unnecessary and for me personally also unwanted, because after beating the game four times in different ways I really came to a closure here. And Dread Mode doesn't seem like much fun... more like a crazy hack.

The Rookie Mode is fine, since the Normal Mode can already be very challenging, so this will make the game more accessible to some players. But of course this isn't of any interest to those who've already completed the game on the original difficulties. Interestingly, playing in Rookie Mode and scanning the new amiibo is the only way of having a total of 300 missiles at the end of the game.

The Boss Rush mode, which will be added in a later free update in April, sounds more interesting on the other hand. The bosses in this game are all excellent, where it will be nice to have a way of replaying them at any time and one after another. So, this is actually a welcome addition. It will be interesting to see how this gets implemented. Will this be a separate mode or something accessible in the game world? Will there be any unique rewards or is this just for high scores? We will have to find out in two months...

Well, until then the Dread Mode will certainly be a good training to truly master all the bosses, where in most cases you should be good enough to beat them unharmed already if you have beaten Hard Mode before. But I absolutely dread fighting against Experiment No. Z-57 in this one... Dodging all of its attacks and hazards was far from easy, which will only lead to some frustrations.

In the same vein, the Boss Rush mode could also turn out to be very frustrating, because those bosses were all designed to break and challenge you, where playing them all in a row might be too much, unless there is some sort of recovery. So, while these updates are free, they don't really feel like something that will be super fun, unless you were waiting for something like the "Rookie Mode".

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: Booster Course Pass Announced

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Booster Course Pass, 48 course for 24,99$, first wave available March 18th

Well, let's move on to the only thing that had a slight connection to Zelda in the newest Nintendo Direct: Taiko no Tatsujin: Rhythm Festival Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Thought you were done with the game? Twice even? Well, think again! Here's 48 more retro courses in six waves of DCL!

It's a good deal, where this gets turned into "Mario Kart Ultimate", really, going through the history of all other Mario Kart titles. The number of courses in the game gets doubled, which is amazing and theoretically very good value for its money.

However, on the other hand this feels like another case of quantity over quality. The visuals of these remastered tracks don't seem to be on par with the rest of the game, where it looks like it all was taken straight out of Mario Kart Tour and upscaled for some cheap effort. This also raises the question whether these new tracks will have any anti-gravity sections at all, since those are not part of Mario Kart Tour.

Also, it's a shame that this DLC doesn't include any new drivers or karts, from what it seems. This would have been the perfect chance to finally bring back Diddy Kong after all this time... But maybe they will do this via some free updates? After all each of the six waves will require software updates to add the new courses, where they might as well try to improve the game on other ends while they are at it.

The only interesting free update so far was Link and the Master Cycle Zero from Breath of the Wild in version 1.6.0. But it seemed like they were done with the game for a while now.

And so was I... I've completed Mario Kart 8 with three stars in all cups on both Wii U and Nintendo Switch. Online mode is no fun at all, just Waluigis on Wild Wiggler's going backwards at the start of the race everywhere. After eight years I'm ready to move on to a new Mario Kart, where I did like the "Mario Kart X" idea, even though those were just fake rumors, but it doesn't seem like Nintendo has any plans for a new Mario Kart any time soon. Since Mario Kart 8 is still selling like hot cakes and the most successful Nintendo Switch game this shouldn't be surprising, but it's still disappointing.

Nintendo Direct February 2022 Roundup

Edelgard artwork from Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes 

Well, I hope you didn't expect any Zelda news, because there weren't any... Not a big deal, as predicted the sequel to Breath of the Wild will most likely get its own focused Nintendo Direct later this year, maybe around the usual E3 time in mid of June, even when there's apparently no actual E3 this year. So, don't panic, this was to be expected and the time will come.

If you've already expected Xenoblade Chronicles 3, the biggest surprise announcement was probably Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. This was fast, considering that Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity isn't that old and even got DLC last year. But this is with all likelihood the main project the guys at Koei Tecmo were rushing to do after Age of Calamity, when they first didn't consider making any DLC for the latter.

It's the same picture as Hyrule Warriors, really. First they made a general Fire Emblem Warriors game that spans the most popular titles in the series, like Fire Emblem: Awakening. And then came the big hit with Fire Emblem: Three Houses on the Nintendo Switch, which now gets its own dedicated Warriors game, much like Breath of the Wild did.

It's also not a major surprise that this is going to happen, but it's surprising how quickly Koei Tecmo is making these games. After Xenoblade Chronicles 3 they should definitely make a "Xenoblade Warriors", though.

Otherwise, the most interesting news (for this blog at least) concern existing games: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Metroid Dread. The latter is getting free updates, where one is already available, and the former gets a long season of additional DLC filled with retro cups. More on this in follow-up posts.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Nintendo Direct February 2022 Predictions

Nintendo Direct Logo

The year 2022 can finally begin for real with some Nintendo news. The Nintendo Direct will air at 11PM CET tomorrow, run for 40 minutes, and mainly focus on Nintendo Switch titles for the first half of 2022. See the announcement on Twitter.

A big topic will certainly be Splatoon 3, which feels like a good contender for a summer title, while the sequel to Breath of the Wild is probably set to be released in the late year or early 2023. Nonetheless, it's likely that Nintendo will show at least another teaser trailer to assure the fans that the game is coming soon. A big reveal of the game's actual name and what it's all about will probably follow later this year, however, like in June, so don't expect too much here.

I personally don't expect any major Zelda news at the moment, where I see the biggest chances in some crossover contents:

  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons could bring back the villagers and items for Splatoon and The Legend of Zelda in 2022, which originally were part of New Leaf, where this could go hand in hand with promoting Splatoon 3 and the sequel to Breath of the Wild.

  • There have been rumors about a new Mario Kart game, called Mario Kart X (or "Cross", see here), where this one will go further down the whole "Nintendo Kart" lane, with ARMS, Star Fox, and Pikmin as new additions. And this would also be interesting for Zelda as well, where we could get new tracks and racers based on the franchise.

Otherwise there is always the possibility of ports of The Wind Waker HD and Twilight Princess HD, where those would be a good way of entertaining the Zelda fans during summer 2022 and would also make it so that all 3D Zelda games are playable on the system. This would also be a good fit for the Animal Crossing crossover contents, where Medli and Wolf Link are two of the Zelda villagers and also characters from The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess.

GREZZO has been working on some other project, so don't expect any news for more Zelda remakes from them (like the Oracle games) in the near future. And if it weren't for the recent interviews with Koei Tecmo, I would also list more DLC for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity as a possibility here, but they made things sound pretty final... Still, you never know, so let's see.