It’s very rare that I get wrapped up in something so much that I lose track of time. Adulting is such a drag trying to keep up with social and career responsibilities, but every now and then a video game comes along and steals my attention to the point that I need to set an alarm to wake myself out of my play time. The game Dreamscaper is an experience that promises to entertain you for hours on end. The challenging but fun gameplay mechanics and the beautiful art/music gives this $20 game on Steam a run for your money.
For starters, Dreamscaper can best be broken down into two distinct sections: the daytime which focuses on the story and provides a staging area for combat, and the nighttime which entails permadeath roguelike action gameplay.
During the daytime players are given a set amount of time to explore Cassidy’s story through the relationships she has with people around her. The local cafe, the tavern down the street, the neighborhood bookstore, and the park nearby all provide avenues for dialogue with other NPCs. Each conversation advances an opportunity to learn a new ability for use in the dream. Weapons and abilities can be prepped at this time, but are lost with each death in a dream. Time management is key during the daytime because there’s only a limited amount of time available to the player to accomplish all of these interactions. At 9:00 PM Cassidy is ready to sleep, bringing a whole different experience to the game.
The nighttime is where the game truly shines. Cassidy must traverse through her dreams in a dungeon crawler fashion. With each new randomly generated area the dream produces a combat challenge, a puzzle, a reward, or a boss. Clearing a section of the map opens up the possibility of gaining a new ability that Cassidy can use to scaffold to the next dream. The only way out of a level is by beating a boss or dying (in which case Cassidy wakes up and all weapons, armor, and abilities gained during the dream are lost). This permadeath aspect of the game provides a challenge for players. Group this mechanic with a variety of ranged/melee weapons, lucid powers, and special abilities and the player can expect to sink a lot of time into finding a loadout that best fits his or her play style.
The game’s enemies vary in ability and each requires a different strategy to handle. Some enemies specialize in melee combat and will give chase while others will be stationary and hit the player with projectiles. It’s only when the two are combined in such a tight space that the player will need to strategize a quick solution. Bosses, on the other hand, require patience and attention to attack patterns due to their rare appearances. While this can be said about any game, the permadeath feature of Dreamscaper and the loss of once familiar abilities provides a moving window of opportunity for success. Between dodging enemy attacks and traversing around obstacles in each random area players will have little time to build a familiarity with the game and instead need to rely on instinct to help Cassidy reach the dream’s end.
Another great aspect that this game delivers on is the art. Characters resemble wooden figurines, expressionless on the face but emotional through dialogue. This stark contrast between what is seen and what is read breathes life into the story and is meant to connect to the player through relatable emotions. Additionally the visuals of each level design focus on a different memory of Cassidy’s life with some putting emphasis on warm memories like a camping trip and others focusing on dark history like a stroll in the city at night. The game will appeal to players with its gentle art and keep you engaged through it’s smooth music. Sometimes it can be a struggle to match music to the feel of a game, but Dreamscaper does an excellent job making you feel connected to the dream both audibly and visually.
Final Grade: A
Dreamscaper is a fantastic experience for anyone willing to take the plunge. The story will be sure to connect to players at an emotional level and challenge their ego with randomized combat. The inspiration Cassidy gains during her daytime conversations with others provides her with tools for success in her dreams at night, while her dreams at night give her creativity for the day on new ways to interact with the characters. This symbiotic relationship between dream and reality paints a powerful message of hope in Cassidy’s life as she looks to recover the happiness once lost.