One of the reasons that gameplay mechanics and controls are very similar across genres (And in fact is part of the way to classify games) is because if something works, you stick with it. Left analog stick controls your movement and right analog stick aims, while trigger shoots. It works, and everyone who plays a shooter understands. Flip the controls around, put reload on a trigger and you’ve introduced frustration. Even more so when the game has been sitting a week, you come back to it and have to relearn everything. So, when you’re trying something brand new, you’d better make sure you get it right.
Dream Trigger 3D almost gets it right, but there’s a precipitous learning curve to begin. The basics are thusly: Enemies are initially invisible to you on the top screen, where your spaceship/butterfly hangs about. They show up on the bottom screen as little dots, and you use your stylus to place little sonar dots on the screen, anticipating where those enemies will shortly be, as when a line periodically sweeps horizontally across the bottom screen, those sonar dots you place ping, and if enemies are close enough they appear on the top screen. You can then hold a trigger and make yourself invincible while careening into enemies. This invincibility is short, and the more enemies you uncover the more of it you earn. Also, the number of sonar dots you have is limited, but refills each time the line sweeps across the bottom screen.
Sound confusing? It is. I had a solid 20 or so minutes of utter baffling deaths, and that was after I completed the mostly unhelpful tutorial. Then it finally started to click as I used my stylus to swipe across the screen, instead of pecking and trying to be strategic in my placement. Things all of a sudden became much easier, and I started listening to the music. The soundtrack isn’t one that you’ll be humming after you’re done playing, and in fact I couldn’t hum any of the songs for you now, and I’ve put hours into the game paying close attention to them. But that isn’t to say the music is somehow bad, it’s actually a vital component of the game. Think of the games Lumines, Chime or the BIT TRIP series, where what you do adds to the soundtrack in neat ways. I began hearing the music and planning for the sweep, letting me uncover entire screens of enemies that I promptly blasted away.
Then in the next level, I did it again. Then the next one. Then the next one. After such an initial difficulty I expected Dream Trigger 3D to be properly old-school difficult, but it just wasn’t. As soon as I got a handle on the game and realized that I should really pick up the floating yellow triangles that give your shield/wings an extra hit/life, I pretty much had the game beaten. I kept playing, but not because I was really enjoying it, but because I was more wrapped up in the neat sensory experience.
While the music can help you play the game well, I found often quite the opposite was true with the visuals. The 3D backgrounds and very colourful explosions and enemies were very rich and textured, but visually rather confusing at times. I often found myself loosing an enemies bullet in the orgy of colour, so I ended up using invincibility more. And since I was able to uncover most enemies right away, I had a great deal of it to use. Then it became more of a game of playing the sights and sounds.
Dream Trigger 3D has a world above the levels, where you travel between the stages. It’s a neat bit of window dressing, and adds a little more visual flavour to the mix. Other than that there isn’t much more than the normal game, aside from the multiplayer versus mode. It’s local only, but if you’ve ever wanted to grief someone, forget about the blue shell in Mario Kart 7 and start playing this. It’s a basic score attack mode, but if your little dots send out their sonar pings and hit the person you’re playing against, the enemies decide to attack them. Which is fantastic. Until it happens to you, and it will. It’s a great, though short, addition to a game that really needed it.
Want to know what our review scores mean? Read about it here.