If there’s a genre that sure seems to love the iOS, then it definitely has to be that of the Endless Runner/Temple Run concept that has thus far produced every last iteration of the core concept imaginable. While most of the interest in this field has produced a wide range of games that have been quite fun to play – extremely whimsical – or often both, there are always going to be more generic cash ins occurring when something becomes popular. Although publisher Chillingo has otherwise been connected to many quality titles, Dream Chaser (out now, $0.99) is that unfortunate game that even the best of companies can produce every now and then.
It all begins when a swift little Night Spirit – Nito – is running along one day when he looks up suddenly to see the Tower of Dreams crumbling down from the sky, definitely not the best of signs. Apparently the two Gemini crystals that normally keep the lofty tower in one piece have shattered, and Morpheus – the God of Dreams – will not be able to keep the night safe from nightmarish forces unless it is soon repaired. To that end Nito – thanks to his prowess in running forward at blistering speeds – has been contacted to aid in finding the missing crystal shards, for they will erode away into nothing if they are not returned to the heavens in the near future.
Before I delve much deeper into the matter of Dream Chaser’s somewhat unique story mode, I would like to first stop and take a moment to discuss how this particular game actually controls. The Night Spirit’s left/right movement – similar to the highly lauded Pitfall! (our review) – is controlled by tilting the device left and right, although this is far less fluid or precise than it was in Pitfall Harry’s recent revival. You will often find yourself hitting obstacles due to the imprecision of this tilt based gameplay mechanism, which is only exacerbated by the fact you are generally expected to charge forward faster than a certain hedgehog if you want a chance at surviving.
The actual act of barreling forward – at largely reckless speeds – is controlled by holding down an icon on the left side of the screen after it completely fills up, which causes Nito to charge forward so long as he doesn’t hit anything. During this time of dashing he will become even faster if he collects dream orbs scattered about each and every level, which also happen to serve as Dream Chaser’s equivalent of the in-game currency found in pretty much every endless runner ever. To aid with not hitting obstacles is a jump button on the right hand side of the game’s screen, it’s just a pity that it’s almost impossible to properly time jumps – which have a narrow margin for error – over things like pits when you’re moving at warp nine.
The aforementioned plot is more than simply an explanation for Dream Chaser’s endless running shenanigans, it forms the core of something the game has that is heavily unusual for the genre: a story mode (although it has an endless mode as well). During each of these story stages you’ll be challenged to get to the end of a limited segment in a miniscule amount of time, all while dodging a mixture of randomized and fixed obstacles that will do Nito in if he’s hit three times. At the beginning of each of these stages – so as to further the plot of Nito’s quest to save the Tower of Dreams – there will be a conversation between the plucky Night Spirit and Idana, the daughter of Morpheus.
As far as concepts go, having something like this in an endless runner type game is all well and good to break up the monotony that can result from doing a large number of standard endless runs over and over. The benefits – however – of Dream Chaser having a story mode are severely undercut by a trio of factors that it make feel less than desirable, and in some cases downright rage inducing. These include the dialogue of the story mode itself, which is often very generically delivered; the story mode’s heart system, which I will cover in the next paragraph; and the fact that the mostly randomized nature of the obstacles makes the content played through in story mode barely feel different from Dream Chaser’s standard endless mode.
While you are otherwise permitted to play Dream Chaser’s endless mode over and over to your heart’s content, as you would normally expect to be able to do, the story mode’s heart system brings the worst of freemium gameplay style to a title that otherwise has an upfront cost to begin with. Each time you die during a story mode run – and you will die a lot as you must run through the random obstacles at mach nine if you don’t want the crystals to erode before you reach them – you will lose one of your hearts, becoming unable to play any more of story mode once your remaining hearts have dropped down to zero. At this point you must either buy more hearts with the dream orbs you have collected thus far – at obscene price points that would require months of playing before you could possibly afford anything – or opt for hearts purchased via IAP means in order to keep going, unless you wish to wait for your hearts to regenerate ever so slowly over time.
Again – I must remind you – Dream Chaser is not being offered as a free game upfront, this is on top of the price you must pay to merely download this app in the first place so that you might have the honor of being harassed like this.
Not doing the game any favors either has to be its 3D graphics, which – although it is impressive that they got a game like this be able to run on something as old as the iPhone 3GS, or at least so they have claimed – are generic and utterly uninspiring. While it is bad enough that you’re running at mach speeds through bland and heavily repetitive scenery, it is worse that most of the obstacles will pop up nearly in your face such that you don’t have enough time to react. If the severe draw distance pop up was done to get the game running on the aging 3GS then I am going to have to suggest they drop support for that particular model, no game where you are required to move at breakneck speeds can ever possibly expect players to react to randomized scenery if they don’t get to see it coming from a mile away (unless that was the developer’s intended result all along, as they are trying to sell players continue hearts for story mode).
With Dream Chaser’s story mode not exactly delivering as much as one might have hoped for, you would then perhaps at least want to know if the game’s standard endless mode fares any better. The answer to that – unfortunately – is still a resounding no; the endless runner mode is still plagued by the same touchy controls, obstacles that are way too hard to dodge at full speed, and bland extremely repetitive graphics. Where as most successful endless runner titles tend to win players over with thrills and whimsy, Dream Chaser’s stock endless mode has managed to implement the bare bones of what defines the genre and not much else.
iFanzine Verdict: Being generic doesn’t have to be the worst thing ever, but the state of Dream Chaser has been heavily exacerbated by combining an upfront price tag with the never ending joys of a cool down clock system with IAP opt-outs. If the game had either lacked the heart system in story mode – or perhaps been offered for free up front – it would be worthy of a slightly higher score, but it still wouldn’t be stellar. It’s just hard to exactly wholeheartedly recommend a game when – while there are worse things you could play – there are better options in both the freemium and pay upfront brackets, but there is at least the potential that some of this might improve with future updates.