There are games, then there are stories behind games. Dreamscaper: Prologue falls in the latter. Three developers, Rob, Ian, and Paul, burned out from the traditional game development cycle, decided to create Afterburner Studios. Their first project is Dreamscaper: Prologue, a free-to-play demo ahead of its full release this summer, is an action RPG Roguelite that blends elements from brawlers, top-down shooters, and dungeon crawlers. To the developers, the game is a very personal project, drawing inspiration from their childhood favorites.
Players assume control of Cassidy, a girl from a small town called Backhill. She recently moved to a big city known as Redhaven, where she’s trying to make it in the marketing business. The fast-paced and unfamiliar city setting takes a toll on Cassidy’s mental health. Though the city is filled with people, she often feels isolated and depressed. It is through her subconscious where she battles a surreal nightmare in order to save herself from a dark fate.
This premise sets up Dreamscraper: Prologue’s main storyline and the conflict that defines the game’s key objective. Much of the game’s story lies within its dialogue and level design. The game is divided between the surreal dream world, known as Dreamscapes, and awoken or real-world of Cassidy.
She starts off in the Backhill Dreamscapes and slowly progresses towards the Redhaven Dreamscape and beyond. Each Dreamscape has its own unique art style and visual cues reminiscent of a specific area in Cassidy’s life. Backhill gives off farming and small-town vibes. Whereas, Redhaven, is visually busier and filled with neon signs. These Dreamscapes are not only different levels of the game but also represent different stages of Cassidy’s life.
Gameplay Mechanics – Dreamscaper Loop
Dreamscaper: Prologue is an action RPG that mixes gameplay mechanics from different genres. Combat is intuitive and rewarding and not a button-mashing ordeal. The game’s controls are very tight. There are two types of attacks, normal and heavy. Players can also dodge, block/parry and employ different skills and even can slow down time. Ranged attacks feel very similar to twin-stick shooters. Chaining attacks works simple enough. Every time Cassidy blinks white, it’s your cue to linkup another normal attack.
Gameplay is fluid, responsive, and overlayed with tactical nuances. Since its combat system is based more on timing than repeatedly pressing buttons, the game rewards experimentation. It’s usually best to mix up attacks such as combos, skills and ranged attacks to fend off hordes.
Since the Dreamscaper: Prologue utilizes Roguelite elements, every run-through is different. Players traverse each stage and move between each area via portals. Some areas will pit you against enemies, others will feature shops to purchase gear and upgrades. There are even some areas with a basic floor puzzle that unlocks a reward. There is enough variety and spontaneity that the game really incentivizes completing one more run.
Each Dreamscape is concluded with a challenging, yet rewarding, boss fight that represents negative emotions Cassidy is fighting. Once beaten, Cassidy progresses to the next stage. However, if Cassidy is defeated during a fall, you have to start over again with basic gear.
Gear and upgrades are purchased through sand that Cassidy collects throughout a stage. Players can fork over their sand and buy randomly assigned gear and upgrades. This is critical as each Dreamscape gets progressively harder, so any edge can really make the difference. Also, this also ties in the other half of Dreamscaper: Prologue’s game loop, the awakened side.
Gameplay Mechanics – Awaken Loop
The game always begins in Cassidy’s studio apartment. When she’s not battling demons in the dream world, she can travel to three different locations: the book shop, café or bar. Each area has different people that Cassidy can talk with and get to know. Some of them include the well-read and cultured Bruce, or co-worker Tamal and free-spirited Alisson.
In addition to collecting sand in the dream world, Cassidy also collects bliss, solace, and insight. These are the ingredients for the game’s crafting system. Players craft gifts to use in the real world. These gifts are important as they are given to the different NPCs Cassidy encounters in the real world in order to bond with them. However, there’s a strategic dimension to the gift-giving mechanic. Each character has specific interests that Cassidy records in her journal.
Every time Cassidy’s advances in a relationship level with each NPC, it unlocks gear and upgrades that can be acquired in the Dreamscape. This, in essence, is how Cassidy combats her demons in the real world, by developing friendships with each character. This also takes time since each of the NPCs begins with their character level as a stranger. Cassidy then slowly works each relationship up to budding friendship and eventually to a full-blown buddy. This also adds to the story Dreamscaper as getting to know the NPCs opens up new dialogue, fleshing out a backstory with each character.
A Storybook Art Style That Pops off the Page…er Screen
One of the strongest aspects of Dreamscaper: Prologue is its visuals. In short, it’s breathtaking and refreshing. Character models are faceless ragdoll avatars but ooze with personality. Some would say they’re reminiscent of Binding of Isaac, but definitely sports its own unique art style.
It’s obvious that each character is crafted to represent their own personality. For instance, Bruce’s sophisticated attire is very distinctive from Tamal’s no-frills outfit, while Alison completely differs from Eve. It’s also unique to note that Cassidy sports a somewhat more realistic body type compared to the typically chiseled heroines of other games.
A wonderful transition occurs every time a player is ready to take on the Dreamscape. Cassidy literally falls asleep on her bed and falls down to the surreal Dreamscape world. Each stage is also well depicted and differentiated.
The Backhill and Redhaven Dreamscapes don their own personality and reflect Cassidy’s origins and her current situation. Backhill is agricultural and has a small-town feel to it. While Redhaven is urban, cold and filled with imposing neon lights.
Audio & Music
Renowned videogame composer, Dale North, works his magic in the game’s soundtrack. Tracks during the Dreamscape are filled with excitement and beautifully composed representing the imminent danger within the dream world. When reaching a store, the music gently tones down to help Cassidy make a strategic choice of which item or upgrade to purchase. Tracks switch smoothly and really add to Dreamscaper: Prologue’s immersion.
During the real-world loop, the music retreats more into the background, which helps emphasize Cassidy’s ordeal of trying to make new friends. However, the musical transition remains seamless, without any abrupt disruptions.
Dreamscaper: Prologue is a free-to-play demo that will be available on Steam on April 8. We will have to wait a bit longer for the full game release slated for Summer 2020. If you’re interested in the game, you can add the Prologue to your Steam wishlist here.