Developer: Roland Studios | Publisher: ATLUS || Overall: 6.0
This is a strange world we live in. It’s a world where the most popular app for young adults is related to capturing fictional monsters and is not about hooking up with very real people. It’s also a world where ESPN believes that airing the finals of a Street Fighter tournament makes for good sports programming. These are only the most recent examples, too. For a long time now it seems like whatever was considered unpopular is starting to become popular, and the things that the dweebs, geeks and weaboos among us whispered in silence about have become the subject of very public and sometimes loud conjecture among major media, news outlets and the more popular among us. It’s almost like we are living in some geek’s daydream…
Out of the jaws of failure comes Daydreamer: Awakened Edition for your PS4. Originally starting as two Kickstarter projects that failed to make even three percent of their original goals, the game has come a long way to be published by ATLUS and available for the PS4. As a passion project for Roland Studios (which is really just a code name for the one guy who developed this game), Daydreamer is set to take your imagination and your money on this throwback side-scrolling shooter. At first glance, the game is an obvious departure from the usual flair. The art style jumps at you for being one part gorgeous and another part grotesque. Though, whether the game is all art style and no substance remains to be seen.
Getting the obvious out of the way first, the art style can only be described as “something else.” It may take a while to get used to, but it eventually settles into your heart as the Lovecraftian-wet-dream that it is. Daydreamer has an awkward beauty to it that presents your nightmares in a sort of picturesque–fashion, as if they were plucked right out of a child’s demented fairy tale. This is further supplemented by the amazing animation for the enemies. Each enemy walks, wriggles, crawls and staggers with a fluidity that makes them come to life; a disgusting, scary and ugly life, but a life nonetheless. This also extends to the main character that possesses the same sort of fluidity but without the characteristic grotesqueness of the enemies. Daydreamer: Awakened Edition is quite the sight to behold.
Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said of the gameplay. The Kickstarter mentions Alien Solider and Gunstar Heroes as inspirations and the gameplay reflects that, but I can’t help but think that it pales in comparison to its precursors. There wasn’t the same sense of urgency or utter chaos that both of those games are well known for; instead of having to contend with wave after wave of enemies, the standard rhythm of Daydreamer seems to be walking forward, shooting the things in front of you and then repeating that process until a boss appears in front of you. Which is a shame because the game seems to have all of the building blocks needed to pull off a fast-pace and fun shooter: a varied amount of weapons, movement options, melee attacks and even bonuses for chaining kills, but they never seem to come together in just the right way to put all those options to good use. There are a few things to break the monotony that include objectives that have you seeking and destroying power cores and a boss battle at the end of every level. Though, they do little to change the overall pacing. The power core hunts happen far too infrequently to matter and most of the boss battles quickly devolve into an arms races where shooting the boss becomes more important than dodging the boss’ attacks with only one notable exception.
Like the gameplay, the story has good intentions but doesn’t quite live up to them. The premise is sound, with the story taking place on an Earth ruled by alien invaders, and our lone protagonist is kept alive as a living trophy to their conquest. Roused from her matrix-like existence by the mysterious, nightmare-inducing, Gatekeeper, she is tasked with a dangerous mission to the Earth’s core and that’s about the point where the story fizzles out. From that point on there really isn’t much mention about what you are doing and why you are doing it, and it ends in a vague way that leaves you scratching your head. The bits of dialogue each boss offers don’t help much either. Their words are often generic and hardly motivating to the player. One striking example of this is a certain boss that starts his encounter by stating “I’m a rabbit, deal with it!!!” The story had a good start but lacks the proper execution to make that matter.
Daydreamer: Awakened Edition came a long way from being a Kickstarter failure to be available on a home console. It’s a shame that the game turned out to be have more style than substance. While those looking for a game with interesting art direction may be able to find something here, those that want to relive their enjoyment of Gunstar Heroes and Alien Soldier or are interested in a story set in a world dominated by alien forces will have to look elsewhere.
When not reclaiming the earth from alien invaders as Unnamedhero, Eduardo Luquin can be reached at Unnamedheromk13@gmail.com.