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Dream Trigger 3D

Your mind is a dark and terrible place. You’re probably not aware of it, but there’s something lurking in the depths of your subconscious. It’s slowly eating away at your sanity, devouring one little thought at a time. It distorts your perceptions, making you see things that cannot possibly exist. It’s easy to miss; you can get so caught up in your daily life that you might even forget something’s wrong…but there is. It’s that unspoken tension that keeps you from falling asleep at night, and those haunting visions that invade your dreams. Nightmares aren’t supposed to hurt you, but that won’t stop you from bolting upright in bed, screaming in terror as you try to regain some sense of reality. Your only chance at having peace of mind is to dive straight in and destroy your inner demons with a laser beam.

No, seriously.

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You’re morphed into a tiny dragon, dolphin, cube, or butterfly and thrust into a psychedelic tunnel crammed with colors, shapes, and cheap M.C. Escher knockoffs. After a few seconds of pretty scenery, you’ll be killed by a flurry of poorly-rendered energy bullets that seemingly come out of nowhere. The brief tutorial explains the problem: your enemies are invisible. In order to get them to show up, you’ve got to draw lines on the gridded touch screen; your doodles will set off a series of sonar pings, which unveils your foes if they’re close enough. A few laser blasts later, and you’ll have just enough time to obliterate your targets before the next wave shows up. Assuming, of course, that you had the presence of mind to not look at the touch screen during your assault; if you take your eyes off the top screen, there’s a fair chance you’ll get slaughtered by all the bullets flying around. By the time you get a hang of the game – probably at least half an hour – you’ll have died enough times to want to hurl the game across the room.

If the above description doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Dream Trigger 3D takes a lot of ideas and uses them in the most contrived ways possible. Trying to focus your attention between the top and bottom screens is difficult enough, but the interface makes it worse. There’s no chance to develop strategies or discern the formations of your targets. You’ll end up blindly dragging the stylus around, hoping that you’ll get lucky and hit something. Attacking is awkward at best; since firing is mapped to the shoulder button, you’ve got to somehow manage to work both it and the analog nub at the same time. This layout forces you to choose between stretching your hands to cover everything, or having to constantly juggle the stylus and the shoulder button. Since your lasers can only use so much power at a time, you’ll have to use your sonar pings to recharge them. Even the health system is needlessly complex; your three hit points are represented by glowing orbs that surround your avatar. Not only is it a huge distraction – the screen is already crammed with fast-moving targets and flashing lights – but it makes your size and shape hard to determine, which can lead to otherwise avoidable mistakes.

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Such issues aren’t limited to the gameplay, either. Progression in the main campaign is inconsistent at best; once you’ve cleared a level, you don’t always unlock another one. The map is a convoluted mess of branching pathways and far-flung stages. Sometimes the next area materializes on another side of the screen, forcing you to aimlessly scroll to discover the quickest route and backtrack. Since you’re forced to use in-game currency to move around the map, you might get stranded on an older stage and have to re-beat it. There’s even some kind of demonic entity that chases you if you spend too much time dawdling on the map. It’s a ridiculous way to enhance the game’s replayability; if they wanted to provide more incentives to keep playing, the designers shouldn’t have resorted to penalizing their audience. Rather than giving out unlockables and features, the game focuses on a list of achievement-esque challenges. Some are pretty straightforward, like killing a certain number of enemies or not taking damage. Others are more obscure; you might have to draw a sonar ping in a certain shape, or uncover secret routes. Since these secondary objectives unlock new stages, you’ll end up focusing all of your efforts trying to complete them instead of simply playing for fun.

If you want to sharpen your skills, the Free Play Mode lets you replay any level you’ve previously beaten. That also goes for the Time Attack Mode, which tests your ability to beat the stages as quickly as possible. There’s nothing particularly interesting or original about either of these; they just record your bonus points and times on leaderboards that can’t be uploaded for anyone else to see. There’s always the VS Mode, which (assuming that you can actually find someone else who owns this) lets you challenge a friend to a score-based battle/deathmatch…and that’s it. There’s nothing else. You’d think that a 3DS game would better utilize the system’s connectivity; an online multiplayer with downloadable stages and avatars would have made things much more entertaining. Or even a simple stage editor, for that matter; they could have used the 3DS’s cameras to take photographs and implement them into levels a la Face Raiders, thus providing a better sense of immersion. The game needs something, anything more to give you a reason to keep playing.

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The only customizable features are the shapes and colors of your sonar pings and the ripple effects they have on the screen. The selection includes stars, hearts, clovers, moons, and a couple dozen other images. They’ve got nothing on the backgrounds, though. This game has many flaws, but stage design isn’t one of them. You’ll wander through the murky depths of haunted forest, soar through a brilliant night sky and assassinate monstrous versions of the Zodiac, and burn evil flowers as leaves swirl in the gentle breeze. The 3D effects make it look even better; you’ll have to fly through rings of fire that have realistic depth and distance. You can see wispy clouds drifting into the foreground, or the how the sides of the tunnels are fleshed out with obstacles. The scenery is supplemented with a small but diverse soundtrack of rock, metal, jazz, and techno. What makes the music stand out is how it’s affected by the gameplay; the better you perform, the more intense things get. A long series of attacks could trigger a lengthy guitar riff or piano solo. Since your enemies make wind chime noises when they die, the musical influence of the gameplay can’t be ignored. Combined with the stunning visuals, it makes for a slick and stylish presentation.

Unfortunately, that’s all the game has going for it. Dream Trigger 3D has a lot of interesting ideas, but rarely implements them well. The gameplay mechanics are needlessly contrived; by the time you’ve gotten over the learning curve, you’ll probably want to stop playing. The complicated control scheme and stylus-based interface make playing awkward at best; many of the basic functions could have been streamlined into something more manageable. The campaign is a convoluted mess of stages, and the game practically forces you to replay levels instead of rewarding you for doing so. You’ll probably spend all of your time trying to complete the challenges, but even they won’t distract you from the limited features. With no online functionality or other options, the game falls far short of its potential. It’s kind of like a dream; it may look pretty, but it lacks the substance to make it real.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2005.

Gentle persuasion

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