By Michael Vondung 04.11.2014
At the core, TRI: Of Friendship and Madness is a puzzle game that is played in first-person view, much like a shooter. The objective of each of the expansive levels is to collect fox statues, which function as keys, and find the exit in as little time as possible. In addition to the required statues that are needed to progress to the next stage, there are also optional hidden idols that unlock bonus content if found. The comparison to Valve's classic Portal is unavoidable, but the German developers of TRI break new creative ground.
TRI: Of Friendship and Madness is played with the keyboard and the mouse. Looking at the screenshots, it may seem like this puzzler is well-suited for a controller, but already in the second level after the tutorial it quickly becomes clear why a gamepad would make an already hard game more difficult, if not downright impossible. The reason for this is that unlike similar games, TRI: Of Friendship and Madness is not only about hitting switches, manipulating objects, finding one's way, or dragging around crates, though it does have all of these elements, too. What makes it unique and fun is the ability to use the mouse to draw triangles just about everywhere.
At the most basic level of the mechanic, triangles can be created as additional platforms to get to higher up places or to bridge across wider gaps. As the game progresses, additional rules for the triangles are introduced. They can also be stacked, destroyed, and used to suspend gravity, which allows for climbing up walls or walking along the ceiling, which flips the viewing perspective upside down.
Altering gravity in this fashion is a real mind-bender. What starts out as a rather straight-forward puzzle game quickly becomes an inspiring, creative journey in an entirely surreal setting. The vibrant graphics with deeply saturated colours and the often quite trippy soundtrack further enhance the distinctly dream-like, almost drugs-induced atmosphere that make TRI: Of Friendship and Madness a unique, oddly satisfying ride through a virtual landscape that is quite unlike any other.
In order to succeed, variously applying or suspending logic and looking at the problem from an occasionally peculiar perspective is key. Half the challenge of TRI: Of Friendship and Madness is understanding how a level is structured. The stages are so different from one another, and frequently built on lessons learned from previous obstacles, that the first try will often be all about exploring the large, open world-like areas and gaining an idea what a zone is designed like and what to do. Awareness of the surroundings is a valuable trait in TRI.
The other part of mastering a level consists of actually figuring out how to go about solving the diverse puzzles, which involves a good deal of playful experimentation and a healthy dose of plainly messing around with the triangles. It's not rare for the later levels to require an hour or two when they are initially explored, though saving the game is possible at any time and does not depend on save spots.
Subsequent attempts will be much faster, and this is where TRI: Of Friendship and Madness' replayability comes from. The game tracks the player's time and records it both in a local and worldwide high score list. This encourages not only speed runs, which are very popular among fans of the genre, and adds a competitive element, but it also invites to try out different solutions that may shave whole minutes off of one's personal best time.
The beauty of TRI is that there are almost always many different ways of going about completing a level. There is nearly never only one approach that must be slavishly followed. For those gamers who enjoy freedom and openness, this is excellent news, because the game rewards unconventional thinking. Just trying out things that may seem totally crazy at first may well lead to unexpected success.
The story is told in brief but beautifully drawn cut-scenes during level transitions. While some might discard them as slightly better loading screens, the narrative is thoughtful and adorable, and following the plot is well worth it, but of course it isn't required and one can certainly just focus on the puzzles without knowing what's going on in the larger picture.
It's worth pointing out that TRI: Of Friendship and Madness is a hard game that requires patience and persistence. It's not a candyfloss kind of experience that tries to make everyone feel like an instant winner without asking for some effort in return. While the NPCs now and then offer help to the stuck player by painting arrows right onto walls and floors, it demands thinking and the ability of creative problem solving. Frustration is only the other side of the same coin that makes this puzzler an immensely satisfying, rewarding affair, though. Going from feeling utterly clueless to suddenly figuring everything out after finally letting go of preconceptions is an emotional rollercoaster ride that has the potential to really make anyone's day.
Those who can resist the urge to look up a YouTube video of a level's solution, are willing to sink their teeth into the game rather than the keyboard, and have the ability to shift the way they look at problems, are repaid with a memorable sense of accomplishment.
TRI: Of Friendship and Madness' name is appropriate: It is easy to get pulled in by the gorgeous visuals, fall under the spell of the powerful soundtrack, experience the exhilarating elevation of solving a hard level, have bucketsful of fun with the creative freedom the game offers, and naturally want to pet the adorable foxes. On the flip side, the difficulty of later levels is likely to drive the genre newcomer up the triangles-covered wall. It is never deliberately punishing, and rewards creativity, persistence and occasionally dexterity, but it is not easy by any means. Genre aficionados will find a welcoming challenge here, but everyone else might suffer a bit of a brain ache in the morning after. Nonetheless, TRI: Of Friendship and Madness is one of the finest representatives of the genre and shares the top of the list only with the esteemed Portal. In spite of minor issues with the controls, TRI: Of Friendship and Madness is a truly remarkable game.