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Published July 9, 2018

After seeing what can be done with side scrolling games in the past few years, it’s easy to get excited about what the medium can bring to the table. Indie sidescrollers are a testament to what can be done with limited resources and a small team; I’ve raved about games like INSIDE, and I eagerly await Projection: First Light after getting my hands on it briefly at PAX in 2017.

Dream Alone is the spiritual kin of these games – developed by indie company Fat Dog Studios, it is described as “a 2D platforming game with classic platform gameplay, deadly traps, a dark storyline and unique hero abilities.” It hits the intended mark for tone and atmosphere, but stumbles in some key areas.

The story opens with a plague of sorts spreading across the land that puts the infected into death-like comas. Our hero finds his family has been afflicted, which prompts him to go on a journey to find Lady Death in hopes of having it cured. The game takes place over 21 levels, featuring classic horror locations such as haunted woods and marshes. Abominations and hellish creatures stalk the lands, requiring some problem solving to overcome.

The gameplay is basic, though that is to be expected from a side scrolling game. You generally solve puzzles by moving around the map, using the arrow keys and the jump button. Navigating around enemies can be tricky; I found that trial and error was the best way to figure them out. The game does start to feel a little uninspired after the first couple of levels – even the chance to use special abilities like slow motion of alternate reality jumps don’t seem to make the puzzles any less samey, and the enemies any less robotic. Enemies largely patrol back and forth, and a touch will kill you and send you back to a checkpoint. The game is less about defeating enemies and more about getting past them, which is a smart path to go down for a horror game. A horror game should make you feel like the odds are significantly stacked against you, like you’re helpless in the face of ever-present danger.

The art style is reminiscent of Tim Burton’s animated films, the gothic horror style is wonderfully rendered in the game’s cinematic portions. This is actually where the game shines the most, it seems like a disproportionate amount of time and energy was spent making the cinematics looks good and flow smoothly. During the game, there’s an ever-present scratchy filter over the screen that some may find adds to the game’s atmosphere, but I found really needs to be toned back. It’s disorienting and detracts from what’s happening on the screen, even hiding some of the background art. It’s worth mentioning that the soundtrack is well-implemented, minimalistic in nature and just enough to add to the atmosphere without being overbearing.

Dream Alone is a hard sell if you’re a hardcore gamer, and I think it speaks to a fairly niche market. Casual gamers looking to branch into horror games will find a step here, and I think the release on the Nintendo Switch will help it find a market of gamers looking for a brief challenge. Something to play on the bus or on a long car trip, but if you’re looking for a truly engrossing and charming sidescroller, there are other, better options.

Dream Alone is now available on Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One players can face its nightmares in Q4 2018.

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