02nd Jul2018

‘Dream Alone’ Review (Nintendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

dream-alone-screen

An interesting backstory and intriguing setup isn’t enough to halt the game play issues that come from this 2D platformer, a strange mesh of Limbo and Rick Dangerous.

Dream Alone casts you in the part of a young boy, seemingly the sole survivor of his village and doomed to traipse through a dismal landscape. As everyone else has disappeared, you begin your journey into finding out the cause of this strangeness, hopefully reversing whatever has happened. The developers of Dream Alone, WarSaw Games have heavily focused on the level of difficulty in the game and this is a mixed bag as the game relies just as much on the skill of the player as it does on cheap, repetitive tricks. For instance, there are sections where you have to solve puzzles based on pushing objects, dodging enemies and warping between the real world and a dream world in order to proceed past obstacles but then there are other moments where you’ll be snapped up by hidden traps, trigger rock-falls and enemy drops that are pretty much unavoidable unless you’ve already died at that exact spot and know how to proceed. The game features regular invisible checkpoints and so death quickly becomes a tedious monotony with no real drawback and so you may as well walk forwards until you die and then upon re-spawning, avoid the previously unseen (and unknowable) threat. There’s a hefty nod to Limbo at one stage where you have to avoid a spindly spider which required pixel-precision to pass, but I found it dreary because I had already died so many times that it had lost all meaning.

The spooky ambience and eerie soundscape that accompanies you is all well relaised but the visuals really work against the game. It’s hard to describe but I think the developers were going for a 30s, monochromatic scratched projection effect, but this makes the game difficult to watch as the screen flickers, dims and cracks along giving an accurate representation of degraded film stock but ultimately making seeing what is happening on the screen laborious, especially when you die for the fourth time on a jump because you can’t clearly see where the ledge ends.

This feeling of awkwardness that affects the visuals and traps runs through the dream world / real world swapping mechanic, as well. There seems to be no real pattern to the differences between the worlds, sometimes the landscape, traps and enemies are unaffected and sometime flipping removes them. The issue is that if you use up the limited time in the ‘dream world’, it can only be recharged by picking up potions and so you have to purposefully die in order to restart at the previous checkpoint so that you can pick up the potions again. It works as a sort of hint system, you know that if there aren’t any potions nearby, you need to platform your way across and vice versa, but the murky visuals and the length of time it takes to transition between realms again makes it a tedious process after a while.

There’s a lot to like in the game, the atmosphere, dark landscapes and general tone are all good but too many things drag it down to make it enjoyable. I definitely think a patch should be released to ease up on the visuals so that the game can be seen more clearly, for a start, as I genuinely assumed that there was something wrong with the brightness settings on my Switch, it was so hard to make out.

Dream Alone is for fans of trial and error gameplay. The game gets its high level of difficulty from repetition, indistinct visuals and odd design choices which may appeal to some but it’s certainly not for everyone. I wonder if the meaninglessness of death is somehow the point at the end of the game, but my interest had waned before I found out, sadly.

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