As a gamer, I often believe I am spoiled for choice. Hundreds of games flood the market each and every year, so many different titles, so many diverse covers, but how distinctive are they really? Most are first-person shooters, role-playing games, or beat ‘em ups. They may all have different names, but they pretty much occupy the same space—the same old genres. We rarely see anything unexpected. Enter Daydreamer: Awakened Edition, this updated re-release of last year’s PC version feels fresh despite the fact it is one of the oldest genres in gaming: the side-scroller.
What’s old is new again; this statement sums up Daydreamer rather well. We don’t tend to see many games of this ilk on consoles anymore, making the whole experience stand out from the crowd. Developer Roland Studios attempts to stand out even further still, not so much in terms of gameplay, but visually. When I first laid eyes upon Daydreamer I was taken aback, I found it to be quite crude, even ugly. The protagonist seems to be too large for the environments she finds herself in, and not to mention her attire: a stark contract to the game’s theme. It also seemed as though it would perform sluggishly, even cumbersome, but this is an excellent case proving one should not judge a book by its cover, or a game by its graphics.
The gameplay is surprisingly fast paced and feels pleasingly fluid. After spending some more time with the game I grew to love the art design, too. Its claymation-like bosses are wonderfully constructed, exuding charm and horror. Despite the wacky tone, some of the enemies you will be facing look like they jumped right out of a Guillermo del Toro film. Take Mr. Smiles for instance, he is a hulking beast with a dark void in his rotund stomach and an evil grin fixed into his mouth-shaped skull that would put the Cheshire Cat to shame. Or, one of my personal favorites, an enormous white rabbit that introduces itself by stating: “I am a rabbit, deal with it.” It is characters like these odd fellows that make this experience quite the eye-catcher.
Similarly, the level design is highly novel. You will be exploring industrial environments wherein you must jump on conveyor belts to make it safely to the next section, a wonky neighborhood that looks to be collapsing in on itself at the sheer delights of the stage’s multi-colored clouds, a magical land overflowing with large mushrooms and fireflies, and many more outlandish locations. Throughout my playthrough my eyes never wanted for the strange, colorful, or the macabre.
The gameplay also has some nifty elements, but nothing as overly original as the graphics. As previously mentioned, Daydreamer: Awakened Edition is a side-scrolling platformer and shoot ‘em up. Being such, it borrows a great deal of elements from many of the classics in that genre. I would not necessarily say it makes them better, but it does not make them worse either. There are a few diverse abilities to make use of here, including warp speed, which sees you dashing across the screen, a shield that when activated can protect you against hazardous objects in the environment, not just enemy fire, and the ability to slow time, giving you an extra fighting chance to dodge and defeat those hard to kill enemies.
You can slay the individuals standing in your way with a variety of weapons, including a gun that unleashes a giant laser blast and some Contra-esque weapons that send bullets zigzagging and spiraling over the screen. In addition to the heavy arsenal, you can get a leg, or four, up on your foes by purchasing pets. This may sound strange but having a cat, duck, or turtle floating by your side, providing you with its unique form of assistance fits in well with the game’s zany tone.
Besting your foes in combat is not too tough on the medium setting, aside from a few extremely noticeable difficulty spikes. Those among you prone to controller throwing should not venture into the harder modes, for you will assuredly be finding yourself buying a new game pad within hours of starting your play session.
Other than the flippant difficulty, the near nonexistent story is Daydreamer’s only real downfall. The narrative feels like an afterthought, just an excuse for the surrealistic setting. We get an intro and an ending, and that’s basically it, but that’s all we really need. This is very much a retro style of doing things, with focus placed on the magnificently bizarre bosses rather than the story. Some may consider length an issue, due to an average completion time clocking in at about four and a half hours. However, this is a budget title with plenty of replay value for those ballsy enough to venture into the harder modes.
Daydreamer: Awakened Edition is certainly not for everyone, it fits into a niche market, appealing to those who want something unusual or something that reminds them of days gone by. It has some issues: a nonsensical story and uneven difficulty, but the overall experience provided me with a great escape from the norms of gaming, just like a good dream should.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Windows PC ; Publisher: Atlus ; Developer: Roland Studios ; Players: 1 ; Released: July 12, 2016 ; MSRP: $9.99
Full Disclosure: This Review was made possible with a review copy provided by the publisher, Atlus.