REVIEW: ‘Dreamscaper’ Offers A Surprising Mental Health Journey (Switch)

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Dreamscaper - But Why Tho

Dreamscaper is a rogue-lite action RPG published by Freedom Games and developed by Afterburner Studios. Dreamscaper is a surreal experience played out in a waking and dreaming cycle. During the day, meet new people, get to know them better, and learn from them. Then, at night, fight through your dreams and take on your very nightmares.

Players are introduced to Cassidy, a young woman who recently moved to a new town, Redhaven. Unfortunately, the move has pushed her into a deep depression that can only be fought by fighting her nightmares and making friends in her new town. During the day, players will be able to make friends by talking to the various denizens and giving them gifts. But beyond having feel-good conversations, this mechanic also unlocks permanent upgrades that players can use during the night phase.

At night is where the rogue-lite elements become apparent. When Cassidy sleeps, she dreams. Her dreams take her back to her old town, where you trudge up fond memories and encounter living nightmares. You’ll have multiple powers at your disposal, including close-range and long-range weapons, a shield, two abilities, and a dodge. As you find new items, all your equipment can be switched out and upgraded. While this variety keeps the game interesting, Cassidy can also manipulate elements, control time itself, and warp space, allowing for some really enjoyable gameplay and gratifying combos.

Each level is randomly generated, and the map begins to unfold room by room as you explore. The layout of each level, the items you can find, and the enemies you encounter are different each time. This is where the replayability of the game is encountered. Every night is different and offers new challenges, especially since you’re ejected from the dream world on death and must start anew. Because of this, Dreamscaper allows for endless hours of fun. Every run is different, and the levels just get more and more challenging as you descend deeper into Cassidy’s dreams.

Dreamscaper

The end of each level is locked behind a boss, each of which represents the very things keeping Cassidy in her depression—negativity, fear, isolation, loss, and so much more. While permadeath means you’ll have to begin from the very first level, once you defeat a level’s boss, you can skip it the next time you encounter it. But while you do lose out on some rewards doing this, health items are few and far between, so skipping it may be worth the possible health you may lose.

After ejection from Cassidy’s dreams, beyond making friends during the day, players can sketch up new ideas for weapons or shields, create gifts, unlock new rooms that can show up randomly on each dream playthrough, and much more. These rooms include puzzles that can reward rare items, a room that grants you full health, and a challenge room that rewards greatly if you defeat its enemies.

While the night ends in permadeath, the day builds Cassidy up to be able to take on her nightmares more efficiently. Players have the opportunity to build Cassidy and play exactly the way they want. And while the night is filled with action, there are plenty of puzzles to keep your brain working. Find keys, use bombs to open up paths and destroy objects, and backtrack to open up paths you weren’t able to before.

The graphics are beautiful. While the people themselves, including Cassidy, aren’t very detailed, the backgrounds and levels are wonderfully crafted to engender Cassidy’s story. The new town brings warmth with its bright, green park and its cozy shops. Meanwhile, Cassidy’s dreams are often dark, with empty streets and foreboding.

It’s important to note that the Nintendo Switch version comes with two modes: a Performance and Quality mode. The Performance mode allows the game to run at 60 FPS with reduced image quality, while the Quality mode runs at 30 FPS with better graphics. For the most part, I rarely felt the need to use the Performance mode. But even when I did, the decrease in graphics quality wasn’t a hindrance.

Dreamscaper

It’s obvious each level is meant to resemble Cassidy’s past. Additionally, you can interact with occasional memories where Cassidy will recall fond emotions. I just wish there was more of it and perhaps some voice acting, so I don’t have to read subtitles that are a bit small while using the Switch as a handheld. It would make the present more poignant if we felt more for Cassidy’s past.

But this is a tiny criticism for a game with a lot of heart, and that tackles a subject that I don’t think I would have ever expected from a rouge-lite: mental health. Cassidy is depressed, and the various bosses you encounter represent all the negative emotions she harbors. The significance of fighting your nightmares is obvious but what’s even more significant is how Cassidy makes connections. Players help Cassidy make friends and, in turn, make her new city feel like home. But her new friends also help her in kind, granting her permanent upgrades to fight off her nightmares more efficiently. And the stronger the bond, the stronger Cassidy is.

Dreamscaper is a fun rouge-lite that offers hours upon hours of fun and novel gameplay. While the combat is entertaining and offers a variety that’ll never get boring, the way the game focuses on mental health is well-done and powerful because of it.

Dreamscaper is available now on Nintendo Switch and PC.

Dreamscaper
  • 8.5/10
    Rating - 8.5/10
8.5/10

TL;DR

Dreamscaper is a fun rouge-lite that offers hours upon hours of fun and novel gameplay. While the combat is entertaining and offers a variety that’ll never get boring, the way the game focuses on mental health is well-done and powerful because of it.