Review – Dreamscaper
I had the pleasure of playing Dreamscaper from Afterburner Studios during this year’s E3. It feels similar to Hades (which is its closest point of comparison), as it’s a roguelite, with an overarching story that continues even after you fail a run. This was one of the things that I loved most about Hades, so it’s great to see another game follow in those footsteps.
In Dreamscaper you play as Cassidy, a woman who is suffering from some mental health issues after moving to a new town. Whenever she falls asleep, she sinks into a nightmare world shaped by events in her past. She’ll have to battle her way past manifestations of her inner demons in order to move on. Each time she perishes in the dream world, she wakes up at the start of a new day where she’ll have to navigate the real world.
Dreamscaper‘s gameplay is broken up into two sections: the dream world and the real world. Both of these sections play very differently from one another. Gameplay in the waking world is much more narrative focused and features no combat. Instead, Cassidy will be able to explore areas of her town and meet new people. Not every area will be available right from the start, nor will she be able to have full conversations with everyone she sees right away. Places will open up and people will become more open to conversing with Cassidy after every new day. She’ll have to forge new friendships and bonds in the waking world in order to make her stronger against her nightmares in the dream world.
When Cassidy is in the dream world, this is when Dreamscaper turns into a roguelite. The combat is fluid, flashy, and responsive. Along the way you’ll also be able to find different weapons and items that will increase your stats and give you various perks. There’s a nice variety in the weapons, which are based around things from her past, such as a baseball bat or a yo-yo. As with every roguelike/lite, these disappear as soon as your run ends.
There are also currencies you can use to upgrade Cassidy’s gear and stats. Keys, bombs, and sand are in-dream currency, which can open new paths and get past obstacles during your current run. Keepsakes give you stat boosts, like increased health, and are stackable. These are found spread throughout the dream world. Resolve and Inspiration are real-world currencies that can be used to permanently increase Cassidy’s stats. She gets these by creating and strengthening new friendships from people found within her new town. The environments in the dream world are procedural and will change after every run. The real-world sections are persistent though, with the story continuing constantly. Talking to people in the waking world is key, not only for permanent stat boosts, but also for uncovering more of the story.
The dream world consists of six different levels, each with their own unique biome, optional puzzle, and boss. The puzzles aren’t overly difficult, but still offer a nice challenge and yield good rewards if you’re willing to find and complete them. The boss battles are Dreamscaper‘s highlight, in my opinion. Each one is based off one of Cassidy’s darkest emotions, such as Fear, Isolation, Negativity, and Loss. The designs for each of these bosses are an incredible representation of each of these emotions. They all have their own distinct fighting style and attack patterns as well. I also think it’s important to note that you can’t rely on a hack ‘n’ slash approach to the enemies in Dreamscaper, especially the bosses. They require a much more methodical approach, with proper timing and recognizing their specific attack patterns being the key to success.
The visuals in Dreamscaper are beautiful. I love that there is a noticeable difference between the look of the dream world and the waking world. The dream world is full of surreal imagery and a slight haze, giving it an otherworldly, ethereal appeal. The real world is full of more natural tones and proportions, making it obviously more realistic in its appearance. My only real gripes are that the enemy variety is a bit limited and the NPCs tend to lack the same level detail found elsewhere. Honestly though, those issues are pretty minor in the whole scope of the game.
Like so much else in Dreamscaper, the sound design is very strong as well. There is no voice acting, which I found mildly disappointing as I feel like it would have elevated the interactions with the NPCs a bit. However, the sound effects are effective and the soundtrack is outstanding. Just how the visuals sell the notion of being in a dream world versus the real one by their different aesthetics, the soundtrack does the same. The waking world features mellow, slightly melancholy tunes, while the dream world has scores that range from foreboding to grandiose during the boss battles. Each melody fit the tone of each sections very well.
Dreamscaper is an amazing indie gem and is an easy recommendation for fans of roguelikes/lites. Much like with Hades, the combat is fun with an addictive gameplay loop, plus the fact that the story gets deeper and more is revealed as you play will keep you wanting to come back for more. Each time I dive in I have a hard time putting the game down. It’s not only fun, but it’s a highly emotional journey with a lot to say about mental health and overcoming past trauma. Dreamscaper is something truly special and I can’t recommend it enough.
Beautiful graphics with an ethereal feel to them. Each biome has its own distinct look and feel. The waking world areas seem very small by comparison, though.
The combat is fast, responsive, flashy, and fun. Fans of Hades should feel right at home. The focus on the narrative and making friends in the world is a nice contrast and offers a sense of balance between fighting sections.
The musical score is outstanding, ranging from melancholy tunes to epic scores. The sound effects are also dynamic. There’s no voice acting, which I feel could have elevated the real-world sections.
Fun Factor: 8.5
Dreamscaper has an addictively fun gameplay loop, along with an emotional and engaging story. It’s the best of both worlds and balances each portion well. Although, I think a few of the NPCs could have been fleshed out a little better.
Final Verdict: 8.5
Dreamscaper is available now on PC and Switch.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Dreamscaper was provided by the publisher.