Review – Cavern of Dreams

Telling me that there is a game out there trying to emulate the look and feel of the collectathon platformers from the Nintendo 64 era is like telling a moth there is a lovely neon light in the vicinity; you have my curiosity and my attention almost instantly. In these cases, it’s rare for a game like this to properly deliver. For the most part, if they are just a carbon copy of an older N64 platformer, with simply no improvements to the formula, it can end up being like Glover remaster. Not all of them manage to be as good as A Hat in Time or Yooka-Layle (yes, that game is good, shut up). So let’s take a look at Cavern of Dreams, and see if it’s worth your time, and not just out of sheer nostalgia.

Cavern of Dreams

The look, the feel, the intentionally crappy textures. If it wasn’t for the 16:9 ratio, you could have fooled me by telling me this was a cancelled N64 game.

As to be expected from a game made on a tight budget, made by a small team, and based on an era where storytelling in a game was to be expected, but not to be taken seriously, Cavern of Dreams is light on plot. You get all the information you need in the first couple of minutes of gameplay: you play as a little dragon called Fynn, you are trying to rescue your yet-to-be-hatched siblings, and a fairy wants to help you. Gotcha, straightforward enough. You know the characters, the premise, the stakes, all from the getgo. Not a particularly engaging objective or set of characters, but enough to make you want to explore these small levels in order to find these eggs, which act as Cavern of Dreams‘ Stars or Jiggies.

Cavern of Dreams Shelnert

…eaten? That’s what you do to food, y’know…

The gameplay is as you can imagine: explore worlds, solve puzzles, grab eggs, receive a congratulatory message from the fairy after obtaining a certain number of eggs, get new ability, unlock new areas to explore, and so on. In a nutshell, Cavern of Dreams nails the elevator pitch and instruction booklet on how to make what’s essentially a Nintendo 64 platformer, emulating the visuals, sound, gameplay, the whole shebang. With that being said, whilst the game did fool me into thinking it could have been released back in the day, it emulated the look and feel of a mid-tier platformer from the era, and not exactly Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64. More like A Bug’s Life, Tonic Trouble, or Gex.

Cavern of Dreams Armada

Don’t generalize everyone, you bigot.

Don’t get me wrong, I like those games. But they were hindered by camera issues at the time, as well as budgetary constraints. Cavern of Dreams also suffers from those. Its controls are responsive, but very basic. The platforming is a but too punitive or poorly explained at times as well. It does feature some decent level design, but I feel like the titular Cavern of Dreams, this game’s hub world (its Grunty’s Lair) is a bit too obtuse. Whilst levels themselves are well-designed, the hub world is confusing to navigate. There’s also the fact there is no emphasis on combat, just puzzle-solving, which gets a bit stale after a while. I get that the game is meant to be “wholesome”, but enemies are unbeatable, making them feel just like annoying obstacles.

The best aspect about the game as a whole is its presentation, most notably its visuals, not so much its limited and simplistic sound department. If it wasn’t for the improved framerate and 16:9 aspect ratio, the developers would have been able to fool me by telling me Cavern of Dreams was, in fact, a long lost N64 game, complete with a pretty good usage of a CRT filter. Well, it looks great during gameplay, but it’s an eye strain machine on menus. It’s very situational, however, so you won’t need to face this that often.

Cavern of Dreams challenges

So much for wholesomeness…

If the developers’ intention was to make this game look and feel like a Nintendo 64 platformer, then Cavern of Dreams has succeeded. It looks the part, it feels like one of those games, for better or worse. With that being said, it managed to look like a mid-tier platformer from that era, something akin to Gex or Tonic Trouble, and not exactly a big player from the system’s upper echelon. Still, that’s not entirely a bad thing, just know what to expect from it. If you’re looking for a nostalgic shot of joy, Cavern of Dreams is very flawed, but it can provide some entertainment for a few hours.

Graphics: 7.5

Cavern of Dreams wanted to look like a Nintendo 64 game, and it sure succeeded at that. Its CRT filter is terrible on menus, but looks great during gameplay.

Gameplay: 6.0

Basic platforming controls that can be a bit too punitive or poorly explained at times, as well as a camera system that might not be terrible, but could have received some extra polish. The level design is decent enough.

Sound: 6.0

The soundtrack is cute, but it lacks the charm seen in games from the era it tries to emulate. The same can be said about the sound effects.

Fun Factor: 6.5

If the objective was to feel like a Nintendo 64 platformer, then Cavern of Dreams has succeeded. Now, it has managed to feel like a mid-tier platformer from the time, and not something of the same caliber as Banjo-Kazooie or even Rocket: Robot on Wheels.

Final Verdict: 6.5

Cavern of Dreams is available now on PC.

Reviewed on Reviewed on Intel i7-12700H, 16GB RAM, RTX 3060 6GB.

A copy of Cavern of Dreams was provided by the publisher.