I’m always happy to try out a new platformer, especially when they look like they’re heavily inspired by the likes of Playdead’s brilliant titles Limbo and INSIDE, so I was naturally intrigued to play Dream Alone. Featuring an aesthetic and playstyle that looks very similar to those aforementioned titles, the screenshots alone had me excited to see what gruelling adventure it’d send me on.
Well, after playing through the game I can confirm the adventure is certainly a gruelling one, but not in a satisfying or enjoyable way. Instead, Dream Alone is painfully frustrating to play, with most of its positive points being severely outweighed by gameplay that just isn’t fun.
Dream Alone puts you in the shoes of a young boy who lives in a quiet village that has been struck by a mysterious illness. With the townsfolk slowly falling into comas, he heads out on a journey to find the mythical Lady Death in the hopes that she can cure the townsfolk of the disease. The road to her is a dangerous one though, with the young boy facing plenty of different trials and tribulations along the way.
These ‘trials and tribulations’ take the form of a 2D platformer, with the player navigating across perilous environments where one misstep can lead to a swift (and often brutal) death. With plenty of different enemies and traps to come across, you can probably expect to die a lot.
The problem is, a lot of these deaths come from nowhere. The hit detection is so sensitive that simply touching an enemy slightly will see you die, whilst the fact they can fall from anywhere randomly doesn’t help. The same goes for the traps you have to avoid and jumps you have to make, with each one demanding such precision that if you don’t hit it perfectly you can expect to die. There are also times where you’ll fall from a height and not see what’s below you, with the game expecting you to react quickly to avoid any threats. Know what happens if you don’t? You die.
I’ve played through games that are punishing before and enjoyed the challenge, but in Dream Alone it just feels unsatisfying and… well… not fun. It often felt like the game was simply working against you, with enemies not always following a specific movement pattern and traps seemingly coming from nowhere. Also, the game utilises a monochrome visual style, which means traps and jumps are often difficult to make out anyway – especially when played on the Nintendo Switch’s portable mode. It just makes the game a bit frustrating to play, and whilst Dream Alone seems to want to play like the games that inspired it, it falls way short of the mark.
Besides the platforming, you also have powers that you have to use to help you solve a variety of puzzles. One of these powers is being able to momentarily flick into a different dimension to traverse through an alternate version of the level, with new pathways being opened and different obstacles in your path. It’s a neat idea, but the amount of times I switched over only to find myself instantly killed by an enemy or a trap that I didn’t know was there was incredibly frustrating.
Other powers allow you to emit a bright light to get through darkened areas or even create a clone of yourself – these can make for some interesting little puzzles, but nothing that you wouldn’t have seen before elsewhere (and probably done better).
One of my biggest gripes with Dream Alone comes with its irritating tendency to add a flicker to the game’s screen, with a black hue momentarily covering the screen every so often and obscuring your view. Now I get that the developers were just trying to create the effect of an old movie or something, but in a game which demands pinpoint precision and where it’s already difficult to make out obstacles it just ended up feeling incredibly frustrating. There’s no way to turn it off either, so you’ve just got to put up with it throughout the game.
It’s a shame that the game has so many flaws, because there really is a lot of potential here. I’m a big fan of the game’s uninviting world, whilst the narrative actually feels like one you’d expect from the Brothers Grimm. It’s clear that the developers had a few good ideas too, but unfortunately their execution is just completely off and leaves the game feeling not only frustrating to play but also boring.
At least the graphic style itself is pretty neat, with plenty of eerie imagery on show throughout that fits in well with the daunting tone of the narrative. It’s a real macabre world you’re a part of, so you can expect vicious looking traps, gross enemies, and plenty of harrowing sights as you make your way through each level. The dimension-swapping can look pretty neat too, with it shifting to a brighter colour tone that still somehow conveys a world of desolation – it all comes together to make for a visually pleasing experience.
Dream Alone intrigued me with its haunting tone and grimy presentation, but unfortunately it was just disappointing to play. The platforming was frustrating, the puzzles bland, whilst the overly dark visuals just ended up feeling more annoying that endearing. You can see it so desperately wants to be like a Playdead game, but outside of the premise it falls short in almost every way.
With a little bit of work there’s potential for Dream Alone to be a more enjoyable experience, but as it stands it’s just not a very fun game at all.
Developer: Fat Dog Games
Publisher: Fat Dog Games
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC