For many leading games, there is an exerted effort to market it across as many channels as possible. For smaller games, however, the reach isn’t as great and can sometimes mean a lot of gems can go unnoticed when released. Some of these smaller titles could see a resurgence when there’s sufficient spread of the game through word of mouth. There are a few that manage the latter even before the game officially releases, thanks in part to beta programs or limited release for a portion of the game. This is the case with Dreamscaper, having released an introductory version of the game in the form of a free-to-play title, Dreamscaper: Prologue.
When presented with the opportunity to play and review Dreamscaper, I turned to YouTube, as I often do, to get a quick glimpse of whether I’d be interested enough to invest some time in it before agreeing. This is exactly what I did in this instance. Interestingly, the trailer I watched a few seconds of before agreeing to take the review wasn’t actually the game. As part of the tutorial within the game, you start off working your way through a type of 8-bit TV game-within-a-game to learn the basic movements, attacks and the likes. Once completed, you actually enter the real game – well, a component of it.
There are two facets to the game. The first, most obvious, is when a young girl, Cassidy, lies down her bed to enter a lucid dream. Her dreams see her battling humanoids (not sure if we call them aliens or monsters, or a cross between the two) one room at a time in an angled, top-down view. Each room has a set of enemies you’ll need to destroy before the portals between other rooms are once again opened to continue your exploration of the maze-type setup of every level. Enemies also leave behind a number of varying elements to aid your character’s growth, in both components of it. The most basic of this is called sand. Sand allows you to purchase greater capabilities to help you progress through tougher battles, as well as give you time in the real world to explore once you’ve awoken from the dream. Other elements include keys, bombs and abilities to use during the dream phase, or Bliss, Solace, Insight, etc., which can be used in the real world.
You awake from the dream by means of two occurrences, either you die in battle, or you defeat all the enemies, as well as the boss level. In the Prologue, there are two types of bosses, a giant fish and an octopus-like magical monster. Both of the bosses have completely distinct abilities, boobytraps and even when you can attack them, in a somewhat phased approach. You’ll quickly learn that in order to fight these bosses, you’ll need to have some experience with all your abilities, as well as grown sufficiently throughout the level to have accumulated the best attacks, defence and even regenerated your health bar. After the first attempt, I failed miserably at this stage. The second attempt went a lot better, but still not enough to complete the level. Having read a few posts, I realised how others also felt rather despondent by the lack of capabilities to beat the very first boss. I decided to switch things up by exploring the room after awakening from the dream and discovering there’s quite a lot more to the game than going back to sleep and running headfirst into a wall time and time again.
Having discovered Cassidy’s journal, I realised there was more to being awake that aided the battles. I could venture outside the apartment to the three other locations presented, a cafe, a bookshop and a bar. Here you encounter a few characters for which you’re required to build relationships with and, in turn, unlocks fighting styles you can enter the game with or collect new items along the way to fighting the boss again. After I did this, the first boss battle was a breeze. I had more speed, better attacks (from swords, boxing gloves, blades, etc.), defence and two special abilities to assist in attacking multiple enemies at once. After a few runs in the dream state, you’ll have accumulated sufficient elements to go back to your journal to craft better gifts to present to your acquaintances, as per their interests to have a greater impact.
The description for Dreamscaper states: “DREAM. DIE. WAKE. REPEAT.” This is pretty much a large part of the game. Saying that, however, it’s done really well. From the graphics elements, which provide a unique view across each movement, animation, punch, explosion and the likes. The character movements and fighting abilities are also great. There is also a small story element to the game, which is carried by means of the dialogue between the Cassidy and the people she encounters. The encounters are conducted by means of back and forth in text bubbles (without the bubbles) as you learn more about each person. The issue I had here, though, is that I’m not overly invested in the relationship, using it only as a means to an end to unlock new fighting abilities. Although it’s noted that having voice actors brought in to make this more personal and relatable, as an Indie game it will add quite a bit to the development costs. I do wish that there would be more engagement in this facet of the game, especially since it tries to explore some daily life struggles for some of the characters to address everyday problems we encounter. These include isolation, fear, negativity and loss. The game itself is an abstract of all of these elements and how Cassidy deals with these challenges, but it isn’t always evident.
The other negative aspect of the game is some of the repetitive nature of the attacks and mindlessness of some of the enemies. After gaining some new abilities, you can simply run straight up to an enemy and start dealing a series of attacks and quickly clear the room. Thankfully, there is some progression dynamics built into Dreamscaper, even while there are only two levels to fight through in the Prologue. After battling through the first two levels, you find yourself back at the first, but with more enemies with new attacks and a lot more obstacles to battle through. While the punch and run fighting style still persist, there are a lot more tactics required as to who to attack and when to attack them. In addition to this, the game also includes some achievements to make this more entertaining, such as a clean run with no damage taken, crafting gifts and the likes.
As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions previously, I do love a good indie game. While I haven’t played many lately, there also hasn’t been much to write about either. Dreamscaper is a great example for why many others also enjoy this category of games. Even with the challenges upfront, and the slight lack of variety in enemies and attacks, there’s a definite desire to come back and have another go at it. In fact, even after having cleared all the stages and reached the highest level of friendship across all characters, the game still has great replay value, even without the ‘perfect’ completion achievement unlocks available.
The full Dreamscaper game is set to launch in the (US) summer later this year and I can’t wait to see how much more it has in store.