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TRI: Of Friendship and Madness

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By Doubleplus29-12-2014
Gronnings (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
TRI: Of Friendship and Madness

The Defence

Developer:
Rat King Entertainment
Publisher:
Rising Star Games
Genre:
Adventure, Indie, Puzzle
Release Date:
09-10-2014

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core i5 2.8 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 8800
AMD equivalent
RAM:
2 GB
HDD:
440 MB
DirectX:
OpenGL

The Case

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for first person puzzle (FPP) games, which is why I’m incredibly happy that they’ve become increasingly common as of late. Some are good and some are...not so good. One of the latest entries into the FPP genre is TRI: Of Friendship and Madness, a surreal triangle-based trip involving foxes. In it, you must draw triangles to collect the three red fox statues and bring them to the pedestals to complete each level. Does the game manage to be among those that are good or those that are “not so good”? Let’s look a bit deeper.

The Trial

The story of TRI: Of Friendship and Madness takes the old “solving the mystery of an ancient legend” route. You learn of two fox gods who were best friends until something happened that made them split. Now, for some reason that I don't remember being fully explained, you must delve into this legend with the help of a friendly monk. It’s a neat story and really captures the feeling of hearing a story once told by an ancient people. No wars, no huge conflicts, no “The world is counting on you”, just “Something happened and you want to find out what happened”.

Someone rub some Aloe Vera on that tree's sunburn.

Someone rub some Aloe Vera on that tree's sunburn.

The art style is very attractive as well, really making a unique impression as you delve into increasingly surreal locations. The music is interesting, to say the least, but fits with the level design enough to meld with the experience. Pretty much every moment is screenshot worthy because it just looks so nice - except when you hit the hint button, at which point it vomits tons of bloom in your face, which is somewhat excusable because it seems to be a punishment for using hints.

There are two subgenres within the FPP genre: those like Portal and Q.U.B.E that focus on the puzzles within it, and the rest is built around them; then there are ones like Gone Home and Dear Esther, where puzzles are slim to none in order to build the “Experience.” These kinds of games are usually referred to as “Walking Simulators” because that’s really all you do - walk. I’ve never been a huge fan of the latter, the sole exception being The Stanley Parable, due to the experience being enjoyable enough.

I’m glad to say that TRI falls into the first category. The mechanics are sound; walking up and down and all around on floors and ceilings using triangles is ultimately satisfying. It did, however, manage to give me motion sickness at one point. It gave ME, someone who's never had motion sickness from a game before and used to eat custom Portal maps for breakfast, motion sickness. So I guess that’s some form of accomplishment. Another thing it does real well is the fact that games where you make your own platforms are usually easily broken. This leads to the classic “Was I supposed to solve it like that?” problem. However, when you break TRI’s puzzles, you are rewarded with collectables, some of which are “super-secret” and require solving a secret puzzle within the level.

Which way is up?

Which way is up?

Now, unless you’ve already scrolled down and looked at the score (you naughty person), this may seem like I walked away from TRI with a new game of the year contender. However, this is far, far from the case. As great as TRI’s beginning and middle are, it completely and utterly falls apart at the end. There is a huge difficulty spike, as the levels go from gameplay-focused to “Let’s make another really nice looking level that is balls to actually play in” and by “difficulty spike”, I really mean “Things get real obtuse real fast.” I’m not the kind of person that needs to be led by the hand, but when you are dropped into a massive area with plenty of ways to go, a smack in the right direction is helpful. On some levels, the hints aren’t even helpful because in order to actually get to where the item is located, you have to find a teleporter there.

The worst part about it is that when it takes a nose dive, it takes the whole game with it. The soundtrack goes from “interesting” to “grating noise that goes on and on and on and on because it’s the same few tracks for every single level and you’ve listened to the same song several times while on a single puzzle”, and the graphics go from nice to “why are you plopping me down in a level and vomiting bloom in my face when I haven't even hit the hint button and why is there no brightness setting, my eyes are burning”. The nitpicks I had with the game became huge problems, such as the instakill lasers you have to direct. They were fine up until the point where accidentally dying to one meant I had to start a horrible level all over again unless I saved. There are also these things called “Kamis” that are introduced, which are balls of memories that you have to direct. Unfortunately, they tend to be somewhat unpredictable and hard to control.

Anyone know where I can buy a statue like this for my living room?

Anyone know where I can buy a statue like this for my living room?

Out of curiosity, I took a look at the global achievement stats. As it turns out, only 2.8% of people have the achievement for beating the game (I, of course, being one of them). That means out of every 100 people who own the game, less than 3 have actually beaten it. Now it may just be because it was Kickstarted, so a lot of people may have received their keys and haven't gotten around to actually playing it, but the achievements for completing each set of levels goes down sharply: 80% for the tutorial, 48.1% for the first four chapters, 14.8% for chapters 5-8, 4.8% for chapters 12-13, and 2.9% for 14 and 15. That’s a HUGE dropoff of players, so it’s more than likely not just me who hated them, much less hated it enough to not finish. The final level was the absolute worst offender. To solve it, you have to use a mechanic which isn't explained to you at all and have to use something that had been glorified decoration up until this point. There was no “Why didn't I think of that first?” feeling when I solved it, like in Portal but rather “Really? THAT’S the solution?” thought.

The Verdict

It’s extremely disappointing when games take that big of a dip in quality. If you start a game and it’s crap right out of the gate, you know what you are getting into. However, if a game starts out amazingly, only to become horrible after a certain point, the biggest slap to the face is knowing it could’ve been much better. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Case Review

  • Enjoy it While it Lasts: The start and middle of the game are REALLY enjoyable.
  • So Pretty: An all-around fantastic-looking game.
  • Collect ‘em All: Lots of interestingly hidden secrets to find.
  • Of Friendship and MADness: The last levels ruin the game.
  • I’m Blind: It tries to use visual effects to make it interesting, but a lot of the time, it’s just disorientating or blinding.
  • That’s Enough of That: The final levels really sour a potentially good game.
3.5
Score: 3.5/5
A potentially amazing game, ultimately ruined by taking a nosedive toward the end.

Appeal

At first glance, TRI just seems like any other physics puzzler with a gimmicky core mechanic, and it is. But it does it with such aplomb and so endearingly one can’t help but forgive it for what wasn’t really a transgression to begin with. For what it’s worth, that gimmicky core mechanic is actually quite interesting and is explored in some depth; you go from making mere stepping stones out of triangles to literally having your world turned upside down multiple times.

The depth within the core mechanic is largely due to the excellent level design. Levels start out deceptively small and slowly reveal their true expanse over time. There are hidden treasures and secret areas all over the place, some of which you’ll really have to keep your eyes peeled for. In fact, not even the most eagle-eyed player is likely to pick up every collectible in their first play through, necessitating multiple run-throughs. The presentation is charming. What it presents is competently made, although this come with a few indie rough edges; visuals are made of simple shapes and detailed textures, the story is a touch simple but deals with accessible themes such as friendship, the sound track is varied and eclectic, although the voice acting sounds markedly non-professional at times. In any other game, it’s the sort of thing you’d give a lower rating for but here, such rough edges add to the game’s character; it’s definitely a bit quirky.

The only real complaints I would have regard later iterations of the core mechanic, which work in a somewhat wonky, disorientating fashion and take some getting to grips with. On top of that, there’s very little guidance given on how to first start using it and you are very much left to figure it out for yourself at times (though some people will likely appreciate the minimal hand holding). All of that said, I will be completing this and then replaying it for all of the unlockable bonus content.

4.5
Score: 4.5/5

Appeal

Honestly, there is no better word to describe TRI than broken as all hell. Yes, I’m aware that’s actually four words, just go with it. Because, that’s the whole point. It is broken, like, completely and utterly broken. Or, more accurately, you can break the game. But that’s what makes it work so well. Rather than being confined by a clearly defined solution to x problem, you are given n ways of solving it. Just play with your triangles and do what you want. Of course, there are objectives to achieve, such as reaching a switch and crossing a chasm. But the specifics of the solution are limited only by trigonometry. If there are three surfaces within comfortable distance, you can make a triangle. Even if one of those surfaces is a triangle you already made. Also, standing on triangles defies gravity. So, yes, you can just walk straight up a wall.

Beyond that, there is little more to say that was not already covered in my preview. The game has been tweaked and refined since then, most notably in the visual department, which has been beautifully refined with some genuinely quite stunning SSAO and suchlike. Everything is a lot crisper, smoother and purdier than before. Along with the inclusion of some...questionable voice acting. It’s not bad, certainly not, I actually quite like its almost lackadaisical, dreamy style. But it lacks the ‘oomph’ that many prefer in this day and age.

All in all, the final release version of TRI is a polished, complete version of the (almost) complete early build that has been available for some time already. Though, far from being a disappointment, this stands as a testament to how well put together the game really is, and was. It retains that carefree sense of playfulness of the fox God, with the music still being the strongest part of the experience. I absolutely love the music. And best of all, my save files carried over from the preview build. Now that was a very nice touch. Though I went back to the beginning anyway so that I could find all the hidden collectibles that hadn’t been implemented first time around. A fun, carefree romp through plane geometry. ‘Nuff said.

4
Score: 4/5
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