Title: Dream Alone
Platform: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Developer: WarSaw Games
Publisher: Fat Dog Games
Release date: June 28, 2018
tl;dr: A successor to Limbo in name only
Price: PC: Not yet priced
PS4: Not yet priced
Xbox One: Not yet priced
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2D platformers are a dime a dozen, and Dream Alone is an eerie, gothic new addition to the lineup for early summer. It tells the story of a young boy who has set out to find the elusive “Lady Death,” to save his family from a mysterious sickness, that has caused his entire family to fall into a coma. With him being left as the only healthy one, he sets off into the world to try and set things right. It’s a great idea for a faerie tale, but combined with stiff controls and awkward level design, it’s not worth the trip.
It’s obvious from the start that this was going to get comparisons to Limbo, PlayDead Games’ hit from 2010, which has a similar aesthetic; a young unknown boy trekking off into a pitch black wilderness to find and rescue his sister. Whereas Limbo’s shifting atmosphere of light and dark could and did send chills down the spine (Demonic Spiders is a trope for a reason!), Dream Alone instead opts for a dreary greyscale, overlayed by a rain effect that doesn’t let up. Naturally, this was the best depiction of British weather I’d ever seen, so I felt right at home. The only problem was, I couldn’t see a thing.
Much in the same vein as Limbo, there’s all manner of nasty things lurking on the floors of the levels, like thorns, bits of barbed wire, and knives, and thanks to the monochrome colour scheme, these are incredibly hard to spot, even with perfect vision. The game has an annoying habit of dumping you back past the puzzle or trap you’ve just traversed if you haven’t hit the next checkpoint, so to finally jump over that wandering monster, or dodge that errant spider, only to stumble into a knife concealed by the colour scheme, not only discourages you from exploring, but also playing. It quickly becomes annoying rather than atmospheric, and I spent more time squinting at the screen rather than focusing on my surroundings.
So whilst you’re stumbling along in the dark, you have a few things to dodge, namely weird monsters, the aforementioned spiders, and the environment itself. The way to do this is fairly basic – jump, run, hit a switch, push or bounce on a rock, or use some of the special powers you accumulate, such as cloning yourself or warping into an alternate dimension, to name but a few. As with any 2D platformer, there’s always a certain amount of trial and error involved, but thanks to the stiff jumping mechanics and slightly wonky hitboxes, it becomes less about solving puzzles and careful timing, and more about praying that your blind leap to the next checkpoint actually takes. So if you finally manage to figure out where you’re meant to be going and how you’re supposed to be dodging the next obstacle, you’re not home free – if you even get slightly near the obstacle, you’ll be instakilled, despite looking like you can clear it, and you’ll be punted back behind the point you’ve been struggling with for the past twenty minutes. This is especially obvious when dodging past things like swinging axes – I could barely tell where the blade was, and even then, could rarely work out when I was clear of it.
In a similar vein, the darkness of the setting means it’s hard to figure out where to go or what the obstacles are – there was one point where I was sat atop a ledge, waiting for the monster on the other side to approach, so I could jump over it and run away. It took several attempts for me to position myself well enough to see the monster, because the fixed camera angle combined with the darkness meant I couldn’t actually see the thing. This was the case for a lot of the gameplay – it tricks you into thinking there’s an obvious route when in reality you’ll die over and over again, because obstacles like pits and spikes blend in with the scenery too well.
The dark tone of the game is definitely something I can get behind, but it doesn’t carry enough weight in its own right to make slogging through the game worth it. After consistently becoming frustrated with the awkward mechanics, it wasn’t a burning desire to find out the story keeping me going, it was “Please let me get past these next few obstacles because I can’t save until I finish a level.” Don’t get me wrong – the Tim Burton-esque art style the cutscenes are drawn in are positively gorgeous, but a sliver of plot every hour or so wasn’t enough. Progress takes far longer than it should do, and has little room for error – if you run out of the potion you need to warp into the other reality. For example, you’re stuck until you kill the boy and reset the puzzle, or if you fall over a ledge, unless you’re meant to climb up it again, you’re stuck, forcing you to quit and lose a good chunk of progress.
The horror aspects have the opposite effect at times, too – while the gloomy tone fits the visuals fine, having the few scant moments of colour being a howling red wasteland complete with hanging corpses when you teleport into the alternate reality, and the over the top blood splatters appearing on the screen when you die (approximately every five minutes), feel like the game was trying too hard to shock. With balance, this could work fine, but right now, it doesn’t work.
Right now, it’s hard to recommend Dream Alone unless you really, really like 2D platformers. The potential is there, but the gameplay quickly gets frustrating, and ultimately isn’t worth the payoff.
- The game’s art style is gorgeous and colourful
- … but the colour scheme makes levels difficult and frustrating to navigate
- Lack of manual saving means you have to play from the beginning of each stage in each area if you exit earlier
- Obstacle hitboxes seem overly sensitive
Dream Alone is rated PEGI 12, and is not yet rated by the ESRB. There’s a few monsters and potentially frightening visuals, as well as the cartoonish blood splatters every time you die. 12 should be fine.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.