Don’t Let Irra Dream Alone In This Chilling Horror Platformer!
The platforming genre has expanded over the years. It used to be that whenever you’d hear platformer you’d think bright, colorful characters in vibrant settings with mushrooms you can bounce on, strange creatures with silly expressions on their faces that you can bounce on, and walls that look like candy that you can slide down or (if you’re so inclined) bounce off of. However, platformers have taken a significant shift to the more macabre. From Super Mario Bros. to the gruesome Super Meat Boy to the downright chilling Inside, platformers are now a much more mature affair. Dream Alone does not break from this trend and delivers a chilling adventure that bolsters immense difficulty and unique powers to tell its unsettling story.
A Familiar Fright
Let’s address the elephant in the room right away. From a distance, you might think that someone’s playing Limbo or Inside. There are similarities, yes, but Dream Alone does separate itself from those games with its own style–while not necessarily a unique one. It’s hard for the name Tim Burton not to bubble up in your head when watching the animations or just seeing the face of Irra, the protagonist. The game is black and white with occasional scenes in sepia tone. The only other color you encounter is red when splashes of blood obscure the screen after Irra meets an unfortunate fate due to your clumsiness.
As a platformer, Dream Alone doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The bulk of your activity is what you’d expect: running, jumping, avoiding enemies, pushing blocks, etc. Dream Alone’s controls will take some getting used to. Jumping, for example, is quite gravity-defying, as you hang in the air for sometime before Irra decides he might as well return to the ground. Jumping isn’t affected by momentum either, as you’re able to control your trajectory for a time while in midair, just in case you’d forgotten what you’d jumped for and felt the need to turn back. You’ll also have to get used to how the game decides whether or not you’re touching what you think you’re touching. There will be many times that you’ll swear on your grandmother’s bifocals that you should’ve grabbed that ledge or avoided that enemy, only to end up with Irra’s blood all over your screen, once again.
A Punishing Nightmare
The real crux of Dream Alone is its abilities. Along the way, you’ll encounter vials and other consumable items that give you abilities that allow you to influence the world around you and help you progress. Early on you’ll gain the ability to switch to another reality where the dead float in the air around you and the landscape is altered slightly. You’ll often have to switch back and forth between the realms, but you’ve got to be quick about it. Using these abilities drains bars at the top of the screen and the only way to refill them is obtaining more vials. As you progress you encounter even more abilities like slowing down time and making clones. Timing, conservative use of powers, and memorization are key to getting through Dream Alone’s 21 punishing levels.
And punishing these levels are. There’s no health bar in this game, so contact with any of the hazards means instant death. Much like the other games of its ilk–with the exception of some narration–you learn by experience. Odd items on the ground may be traps that either kill you upon contact or release traps. It takes only encountering them once to know that you shouldn’t do that again, but when you’re retracing your steps trying to figure out a new puzzle old hazards might sneak up on you. Dying is at the heart of the game which means (thankfully) you’re not going back to the beginning of the level when you die. You do go back a decent distance, however; and any consumables you grabbed on your last run will need to be picked up again. Figuring out new puzzles can be incredibly frustrating as every death is met with having to trudge Irra through the same hazards once again, avoiding other annoying puzzles you may know better than the back of your hand at that point, just to die all over again trying to figure out exactly what it is you’re supposed to do.
A Dark and Deadly Adventure
Dream Alone is definitely an interesting journey with creepy landscapes and a storyline that may send chills down your spine. The game acts as something of a love letter to the unsettling and frustrating. And frustrated you will get: the 100th time you die because you were just 1 pixel too close to the leg of an enemy might have you wanting to make a clone of yourself in real life so the two of you could pummel your computer to dust. But, if you’re willing to power through the frustration, you’re set for a game that will challenge your reflexes and ability to think outside the box. Curious to see what haunts Irra’s dreams? There’s a demo available on Steam that you can check out before you completely lose yourself in the horrors.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4 (coming soon), Xbox One (coming soon); Publisher: Mad Dog Games ; Developer: WarSaw Games; Players: 1 ; Released: April 28, 2018 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $9.99
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.