By Isaac Espinosa
In a world of magic, corrupted enemies and dream-fueled mystery, will you be able to escape by waking from a dream? Dream Cycle is an action-adventure game developed by Cathuria Games and published by Raw Fury, in which you travel through a fantasy-like world, striving to re-enter the real world. It’s in Early Access on Steam. Currently, the journey you must take, is one that doesn’t deliver on its promise of a dynamic and epic adventure.
The game’s story is bare-bones, though it provides enough to seem serviceable at first. Morgan, our main character, finds herself trapped within the chaotic dreamlands, and in order to awaken and repair the world, she must destroy soulless opponents and venture deeper into the ambiguity of the dream in which she is ensconced. This story on its own is fine, but it’s also strangely vague. That becomes an issue as there are many instances at the beginning of the game when the characters speak of events in the game’s world, but they’re revealed in a way that implies these are something the player should already know. Because the characters don’t explain these events or take the time to elaborate on them, I was confused about what, exactly, was going on. If there were hints, I just wasn’t getting them. So I’m disappointed in the way the beginning is structured, mainly because I believe it’s important to establish the premise early on so that when the plot thickens later in the journey, it feels coherent and well-articulated.
The gameplay of Dream Cycle is oriented around stealth-focused combat, along with maneuvering through gothic-themed terrains to find collectibles. In combat, you can either attack using your primary sword, a secondary long-ranged weapon like a pistol or bow, or a multitude of interesting spells, such as a lightning bomb. While this is all engaging enough, Dream Cycle’s combat didn’t sufficiently encourage me to use the other options. This is partly due to the way you can perform a shadow strike. The shadow strikes is an ability you possess, in which you can charge your sword up for a powerful blow towards an enemy weak point. It’s a very efficient method of taking down an enemy or whittling the health of a bigger boss. However, because you can easily pinpoint the enemy’s weak points via a dodge that slows the enemy down, or simply by sneaking up on the enemy, performing a shadow strike is far too easy, considering how beneficial its reward is. It makes the other forms of combat, especially using your spells, look useless in comparison. An easy way to rectify this is to increase the margin of error or to provide a cooldown on shadow strikes to prevent players from spamming the technique. As of right now, though, Dream Cycle provides no compelling reason to fight in any other way, and without that, I couldn’t get invested in the rest of the game’s play mechanics.
Another aspect of Dream Cycle’s gameplay is exploring the terrain and finding treasures. These treasures include gold to help you purchase more weapons, the weapons themselves, and spells that you can use for the rest of your journey. Since the game gives you a spell that allows you to see your enemies from a distance, as well as to locate the treasures, you’re encouraged to go out of your way to find these bountiful goodies. And it’s a very satisfying feeling to find a high-ranking chest! However, I was much less excited by traversing the levels in Dream Cycle, since they don’t look all that special, usually ranging from large castles and cliff sides to worn-down houses that have been abandoned to the ravages of time. While the levels initially provide a feeling of isolation that I find quite atmospheric, too much of the same level design begins to water down that feeling.
When all is said and done, I am not too impressed with what Dream Cycle has to offer. The game is aesthetically pleasing, and the music has an appropriately somber tone, but there is much that I found underwhelming, such as the confusing story and the substandard gameplay elements. These could all be improved with tweaks to the game’s mechanics and storytelling methods. Here’s hoping the game makers can address these challenges before releasing the full version.
Bronx native Isaac Espinosa is a senior intern at the New York Videogame Critics Circle. Recently, Isaac was named the Circle’s first assistant mentor. He also published his first story in The Verge.