DREAM. DIE. WAKE. REPEAT.
Roguelites are a familiar breed here at GameNewsAus - several of us are big fans of the genre and that was shown in my previous review of Orbital Bullet - a 360-degree spin on this type of game. There's no shortage of roguelite games to play after a decade+ of popularity, so it takes a lot for one to stand out. Dreamscaper hopes to do that, spending a good year in Early Access before being prepared for a 1.0 release in August. So, how does it fare alongside its roguelite counterparts, with a higher standard set after 2020's massive hit in Hades?
Once you hit New Game, you're greeted with this screen - no background, no text, just a need to move forward.
Relying on contextual clues and flashbacks, regards for plot in Dreamscaper are few and far between. With the majority of the game spent in a dream state, there's only a few environmental interactions to gleam through to earn some plot details. The main character, Cassidy, is new to Redhaven, and will slowly venture out into it as she unlocks segments within her dreams, where the dungeon-crawling takes place. After bosses are vanquished, a vague flashback plays, revealing bits and pieces of what transpired to bring Cassidy to this point in her life. As the majority of the game is spent in her dreams and it could take hours for players to progress, it's a struggle to see what you're fighting for at points.
The environments within Cassidy's dreams differ based on which section she's in - from a wintery wilderness, to cityscape streets, to a Redwood forest, it's fascinating to see a dungeon-crawler where the dungeon emulates real life settings. When you compare that to the dark, dank recesses of Binding of Isaac or Enter the Gungeon's fantasy surroundings, it's a novel take on level design in this genre. The lack of face on characters is also a compelling design choice that gives the game a unique flair.
This is technically a dungeon within Dreamscaper. Environmental design is quite the looker in your dreams.
Anyone who's cut their teeth on the combat of a roguelite will have a headstart in Dreamscaper. With the ever-present threat of losing your life in just a few hits, your moves are calculated and careful - you're put to the test with scaling baddies between each level and you're bound to die. This is where my favorite part of roguelite comes in - you can manage some upgrades to make subsequent runs a bit more do-able. Titles like Rogue Legacy and Hades capitalize on this, and I find these titles more accessible thanks to it. One can only get so lucky with pickups/loadouts and once you get into that sweet spot, you'll ascend the gauntlet significantly further than you could before. While Dreamscaper doesn't do much to forward the genre, it manages to do everything right and has the replayability factor down pat.
Take a breath after you vanquish a boss - every section is considerably tougher than the last.
With a soothing accompaniment in the music department, Dreamscaper continues the trend of indie games having triumphant soundtracks. Fitting every occasion with ease, it's no wonder the 53-track OST, composed by Dale North, is available alongside the game on Steam. As far as sound design within the action, every whomp, wallop, and whack with your weapons feels like it has weight. Snow crumbles on the ground with every step. Monstrous bosses intimidate with massive roars. The care given to this aspect of the game deserves plenty of praise.
One of the game's more relaxing tracks, "Hometown (Exploration)".
So, why should you play it?
You crave a good roguelite that rewards you with every run.
A challenge doesn't phase you and you don't mind multiple runs.
Skill-based gameplay gets your adrenaline pumping.
But why shouldn't you play it?
You dread a plot moving at a snail's pace.
You're discouraged by dying easily/at a moment's notice.
You don't have time to grind a bit for progression's sake.
A press copy of Dreamscaper was provided courtesy of the publisher.
Mike is a game reviewer, columnist, and writes articles for several music publications. He enjoys running meme pages, gaming, and thrifting. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com