A dream is defined as a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person’s mind during sleep. It can also be defined as a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal. The founders of Warsaw Games had a dream of starting their own game development studio and releasing video games to the masses. Their dream was realized when their game Dream Alone was released on PC and the Nintendo Switch late last month. The game is a 2D platforming game in the vain of Limbo and Inside. The story for Dream Alone is that a mysterious sickness has stricken a quiet village and has led the townspeople to fall into a coma one by one. When the hero’s family is affected, he treks out on a journey to find a mythical sorceress to stop or even reverse the disease. With such an intriguing setup as that, does the game fulfill its promise or leave us dreaming of playing another game?
If the old saying, “you never get a second chance to make a great first impression,” was anything to go by, then the game failed with its first impression in handheld mode. When a player is holding the Nintendo Switch with the volume turned all the way up and not using headphones, the cut screen volume is on the low end. With a cut screen situated between every level, this can be a mild annoyance and the game has no sound controls in the menus to try to help this issue. However, the sound during actual gameplay is louder, which makes one wonder why there is such a difference between the two volumes. Then there is the fact that the game is unusually dark, likely in part due to the filter the developers added on top of the game. It is so dark that I had to personally turn off auto-brightness at max brightness to be at even a decent brightness to play the game. Even still, the game still felt too dark, but with the added diminution of the battery now draining faster.
Unfortunately, second impressions do not get better: once a player gets into the guts of playing the game, there are more issues to be discovered. The first noticeable issue is that the hero just begins to die randomly. After a few instances of this the gamer will start to notice a pattern and figure out that white shapes that can barely be made out are traps that will kill the hero. Once figured out, the traps do not pose much of a threat as long as the player is paying attention. That is when the game switches up its tactics and begins to unfairly drop enemies from the sky at short notice and the player must quickly decide what the best strategy is, but more times than not its usually to backtrack and watch their movement as the hero is slow. The pacing is not even a normal gaming “slow.” Rather, it is much akin to the molasses-slow speed that can be experienced in nightmares, coupled with no ability to run whatsoever. Continuous jumping seems to slightly quicken the pace, but such an action is not ideal in all situations.
The few positives the game has are the abilities the game gives to the player to help them solve the puzzles. The first one picked up is the ability to jump into a creepy alternative dimension to find the pathway needed to be used to continue in the level. While I love this type of ability, I did not personally enjoy the time limit the game forced upon you to complete the pathway safely. Several times I had to force a death to pick up more jars to fill the time bar to jump back into the dimension to solve the puzzle. Another ability is cloning the hero, but because the game does not fully explain its abilities or follow the standard gameplay loop of using a new ability immediately after bestowing it, the player is confused how to use the ability until further into the level when it finally clicks what the use of it is for. This hurts the flow of the game, as the player is expecting the new ability to have to be used immediately and wastes a part of the bar trying to figure out its use.
Dream Alone is not a bad game, per se, but it is not that terribly good either. It may be a good thing the game became profitable on presales, as once players got their hands on it the possibility of it becoming profitable would have sharply decreased immediately. While the feeling of solving a practically difficult puzzle is rewarding, the path taken to solve said puzzle draws the fun out of the game. With an average and cliché story progression added on top of that, there is just no reason to recommend this game over the likes of Limbo, Inside, or even Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. With that said, there is some fun to be found here and if the player is looking for a challenge this is a decent title at a good price point. (Ryan Williford)
Review copy provided by Fat Dog Games; reviewed on the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode.