Troll and I is an adventure game from Maximum Games with a focus on cooperative puzzle solving, survival elements, and light combat mechanics. The game tells the tale of a Scandinavian boy foraging in the mountains to support his mother when he comes across a mysterious group of vicious monsters, and a large troll that takes them out and then builds an unlikely, and unexplained bond with the boy.
What follows is a fairly straightforward quest where the two work together to get the boy back home to his village. There is a lot of potential for fun here, as the two playable characters have their own abilities to use in tandem to solve puzzles and beat up the monsters that spawn from magical craters in the ground, similar to Gauntlet. Troll, for example, is all height and strength, so he can help the boy, Otto, reach higher platforms and also lift heavy objects to either create platforms to cross or throw at the monster portals to close them off in order to progress. Otto, alternatively, is more acrobatic and spends a lot of his time jumping small gaps and climbing walls, similar to Prince of Persia or Uncharted. He also crafts various tools to fight and solve puzzles, such as spears with explosive tips that can break walls that Troll, for some reason, can’t punch through, and also cutting ropes using his handy knife.
Unfortunately, as this is a focused, structured quest in an era of AAA open-world games, it’s hard not to notice how limited in scope this game feels. For one, almost all of these puzzles boil down to very specific actions indicated by button-prompts on the screen.
There were many moments where something felt like it should be possible, but wasn’t because there was no button prompt to initiate it. For example, an early part of the game has Otto and Troll trying to cut down an entangled plane in order to get out of a forest grove, but while the plane is seemingly held up by various cords all around it, there are only two actual points of contact that prompt to cut, and then the plane magically comes crashing down. I spent quite a while wandering around trying to find a specific button prompt that didn’t exist because the ropes I was trying to cut weren’t necessary to the game progression.
Similarly, it’s possible for Troll to pick Otto up and carry him on his back to reach high places. While it seems like it should be possible to also have Otto get on Troll’s back to get down from high platforms, there is no context option to do that, which leads to tedious sections of running around to where the invisible wall ends so that Otto can climb down at the point he’s allowed. Moments like this feel dated by their gameplay limitations. There should not be invisible walls in a current generation retail release in 2017, no matter how linear the levels ultimately are.
Troll and I include elements such as weapon crafting and ability upgrades by collecting trinkets and materials littered around the levels. While these are nice features, they also ultimately feel like missed opportunities to add a greater level of depth to the game. For example, almost all weapons can be crafted by a combination of a spear, an adhesive, and a tip.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with a simple crafting system but this feels both overly simplified, in addition to, needlessly complicated at the same time. For example, I found the explosive spear tips that I needed to blow up a wall to progress, but was out of the adhesive used to make the explosive spears and there were no more in that area so I had to backtrack and get more, and then return to where I was in order to actually use the spear I’d finally gotten to make. If the crafting system is going to be tied to level progression items, the materials you receive in an area for the first time should be all you need to create them, especially with how few things there are to make in the first place and most seem to just be progression-locking upgrades similar to a metroidvania game but without the logic tied to those upgrade mechanics.
The concept of utilizing the different abilities of two characters to solve puzzles and progress through levels has merit, however, Troll and I is bogged down by strange design choices and noticeable technical issues. Combat is a combination of button-mashing and dodge-rolling, while the stealth mechanics provide a diverse approach to combat there is rarely a reason to sneak except to forage for food.
Enemies take multiple hits, even with stronger weapons, and often travel in packs, making it impossible to pick off more than one without being seen and ambushed. This is where the brute Troll should come in, but the camera is pulled in too close to really get a clear idea of what Troll is doing a majority of the time. His attempts to smash or swipe at enemies ultimately appear like a poorly choreographed version of Stomp without cool trashcan lid rhythms to make it worthwhile.
Troll and I is ultimately a fun premise with some clever, if a little shallow, puzzles and engaging characters. While I appreciate the quirky graphical style of the game, it struggles to maintain itself and there are regular times, even during cutscenes, when textures will pop in, movement will stutter, and grass will seemingly grow a few feet in front of you.
There are also some strange animations, specifically when Otto rides on Troll’s shoulder, and various other graphical glitches. In fact, I actually ended up stuck inside a rock at one point and had to just let Otto get killed in order to reset at the last checkpoint. All of these issues combine to make the good qualities of the game less impactful. The further you get into the game, the less forgivable these persistent issues are.
Troll and I takes many inspired cues from other respected games yet sadly the sum of these parts adds up to a game that dabbles in more areas than it can master. If Troll and I was a more focused puzzle game, similar to games like Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, it might have lived up to the potential it clearly aspired to. Instead, Troll and I leaves us with a game that can’t seem to cooperate with itself. Unfortunately, it never reaches the heights of its title character.