|Developed by:||Dali Games|
|Published by:||Dali Games|
|Format played:||PC – Steam|
In my early years of Amiga gaming, point and click games were very much in vogue. For many, Monkey Island was our first foray into the genre, although of course it was far from the originator of the form. It helped to establish a number of the genre tropes, with wacky characters, witty script writing, obtuse puzzles and lots of waving the mouse cursor around the screen trying to find something to click on.
Ultimately though, and with a nod to a few notable exceptions, the genre largely faded in popularity as the advent of the 3D age of gaming came to the fore. But with platforms such as Steam opening up smaller Indie developers to a wider audience, these more niche genres can once again find their footing.
Lucid Dream tells the story of Lucy, a young girl confined to a wheelchair, desperate to help her sick mother who seems to be ailing by the day. With the help of a magical dream catcher, Lucy finds herself transported to a surreal world as she embarks on a quest to free her mother of the curse of her overwhelming sadness.
In many ways, Lucid Dream is an old school point and clicker and if you are familiar with the genre, you will know what to expect here. Using the mouse, you move Lucy around the screen, looking for items of interest to pick up or interact with to solve puzzles. Some of the puzzles are simple, such as filling a pan with water to make it boil. Others are more complex, involving constructing a fishing rod to hook a star out of a well. And others are, well, we’ll come back to those in a minute.
The first couple of chapters are a gentle introduction and ease you into both the gameplay and the narrative beats of the story. Stuck in her house and with her mother virtually unresponsive, our first puzzle sees us escape the bedroom into the world of dreams, Lucy suddenly free from the confines of her chair and able to move around the world. As is standard for such games, items can be picked up and stored in your inventory, accessed by pushing the mouse pointer to the top of the screen. Interacting with objects and the world around you is simple. Just click on the item you want to take hold of and then click again on whatever you wish to interact with. There is none of that ‘look at’ or ‘push’ or ‘pull’ nonsense here, just a single stab of the mouse button to take context sensitive actions.
The trouble with point and click games down the years is often the sheer obscurity of the puzzles. You may have a bag full of items but no earthly idea of what to do with any of them. By and large, Lucid Dream avoids those pitfalls. Items tend to be used within the vicinity in which they have been found, so if you have picked up, say, a balloon or a couple of bits of broken vase, it’s a fairly safe bet that you need to use them in that area. And whilst the world itself is quite surreal, the items that you use tend to anchor back to the real world. Solving a weight based puzzle to make a ledge appear, it is logical to balance up a heavy stone tablet against a suitably weighty item whilst reallocating fuses to light your path through a dark, dank corridor is similarly grounded. Even when things do take a turn for the unusual, it is within context, such as using a family of fireflies to light your way into a gloomy cave, or manipulating a set of bats to grant access to a locked door.
Whilst usually inherently logical though, some of the puzzles are complex to actually execute, even when you understand the concept of what to do. There are a few example across the story but undoubtedly the one that stands out is a level based around a set of portals and switches. Each switch comes with a number and can be removed from its stand and placed elsewhere in the puzzle. Moving the switch from left to right may open up new portals or change the destination of existing ones whilst removing the switch will in some instances cause a portal to disappear completely. The trick is to figure out the combination of switches that let you open up the right combination of portals that in turn allow you to collect all the switches necessary to complete the puzzle in the next room. Then do it in reverse to get back to the starting point so that you can proceed to said room and continue the story. Perhaps my lateral thinking skills just aren’t up to scratch but it took me an absolute age to figure it out. Understanding the base concept was fine, although it took me a little longer to realise that some portals would remain stable even after removing the switch. Once I grasped the pattern, I was able to complete the trial quickly and move on but the process of elimination to get there was frustrating beyond belief.
Other puzzles are similarly knuckle gnashing. In a similar vein, Lucy is given a tool that will help her manipulate time but must locate a set of missing buttons. Laid out like one of those ‘my first laptop toys,’ each button affects the world around her, speeding up time perhaps or causing objects to magically appear or disappear. Once again I understood the concept, and the sense of satisfaction upon completion was tangible, but getting there was often a grind.
Of course in a game like this, the puzzles are really just a means to tell a story, it is the narrative that drives the desire of the player to persevere. Lucy’s story is an intriguing one, if somewhat downbeat. There is little in the way of levity here, no wit or sparkle in the script. As whimsy as parts of the adventure may be, the subject matter is dark in tone, exploring death and its consequences. Clearly the name of the Polish developer is no accident either, the work of Salvatore Dali a clear inspiration on the world and its inhabitants. The characters you meet are very much figures of surrealist fantasy, a clear juxtaposition from the real world drudgery that Lucy otherwise has to face. You are never quite sure of who anyone is and what there motivations are but Lucy herself is an engaging protagonist, an Alice in Wonderland like figure that connects you back to the material world. This is her journey of discovery and you feel a sense of compulsion to help her complete it.
It’s clear to see that a lot of love has gone into crafting Lucy’s tale. Each level is beautifully hand drawn, bringing the world to life and imbuing it with character. This is a journey into the surreal, the dream state of the story reflected in the dream like quality of the presentation.
It works on a practical level too. Objects that you need to interact with generally stand out from background detail so you rarely find yourself unsure of what to pick up, even if you don’t always know what to do with it. On the easiest difficulty setting, the game gives you an extra helping hand, a press of the space bar highlighting any items of interest within the scene. This isn’t a game where you spend time wrestling with the mechanics, leaving you to get on with the job of exploring the story.
Music is another matter entirely. The menu music score does a good job of evoking the mood of the game but once things get under way, the music soon becomes aggravating to the point that I had to switch it off. There is no voice cast, a decision that works to the game’s favour, the characters and scripting at risk of coming across cheesy in the wrong hands but far more palatable in written form.
This is in many ways a difficult game to judge. Puzzles are generally logical but too often veer towards the frustrating whilst a simple control scheme and absence of on-screen clutter lets you get on with enjoying the story. And it is the story that is undoubtedly the game’s strength, a satisfying narrative that tugs at the heartstrings, offering a deeper layer than your standard fare.
Lucid Dream is never less than compelling and a taken in its totality, is a worthwhile experience. I just never truly enjoyed it that much.