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Dream Trigger 3D - 3DS Review

Game Info
Dream Trigger 3D

3DS | D3Publisher / Art Co. | 1 Player / 2 Players (local multiplayer) | Out Now
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12th July 2011; By KnucklesSonic8

Believe it or not, it has been a challenge to review 
Dream Trigger 3D. Playing this game for several hours, I experienced constant waves of indecisive thought about how I truly felt about the game. Had I chosen to stop playing after an hour of play, I would have ended up having a completely different attitude towards this game. Either way, I came to discover that this game is definitely not a crowd pleaser. The truth is, instead of being remembered for its amazing gameplay, this new IP will instead be remembered most as a well-founded idea that never reached its full potential. In short, Dream Trigger 3D is a flawed game that only a select few will fully appreciate. 

    So what's Dream Trigger all about anyway? The manual describes the player (you) as a "fixer of dreams" who is bent on ridding the dreamscape of darkness. Each world you visit is set in a special stage that portrays the central theme prevalent in the respective dream. Insight, for example, features a futuristic city, while Descent is set in underwater environments. Each dream type also has a sub-classifier in the form of an emotion-based rank, including Tranquility, Anxiety and Harmony. So what ends up happening is that for each theme or setting, you'll encounter five different variations with slightly-altered colour palettes and visualizers. Surely one can understand that the purpose behind this is to extend the number of stages. So while it would have been great to see unique stages for a wide variety of emotions, this approach still works just fine. 

    Levels are governed by a rather deep system where music, timing, and evasion come together. Sounds like quite the mash-up, doesn't it? Dream Trigger 3D is best understood when you play it for yourself. The game uses both screens in tandem for different purposes. On the 3D Screen you'll find your on-screen avatar, whose appearance changes with each new dream type you encounter (e.g., taking the form of a butterfly in Purity levels). Up to three orange orbs will encircle your on-screen character, representing the number of hits you can sustain before you're forced out of the dream. This avatar also doubles as your targeting reticule for attacking enemies, where holding down L or R will bring forth two beams that zero in on your avatar. You can continue attacking so long as you have energy in the bar at the bottom of the screen. But before you can do any sort of attacking, you must first reveal them using the Touch Screen controls. 

Enemies will appear as coloured squares, circles or other custom shapes on the Touch Screen while those same entities will appear as white orbs on the 3D Screen. The kinds of enemies you'll come up against include flowers, bat creatures and constellations, depending on the setting of the respective level. Acting as your sonar, the Touch Screen allows you to place up to 16 Sonar Pings at once that will expose any enemies caught in the blast on the 3D Screen. These blasts, or Sonar Ripples, occur when the special Rhythm Bar makes contact with them. This bar appears on both screens with differing opacity levels, following the BPM of the music. Each time the bar passes from one end of the screen to the other, this means one measure has been played in the song. This allows for an interesting timing dynamic where the player takes different measures depending on what the action calls for, like foreseeing where enemies will be when the Rhythm Bar comes around once more. 

    Dream Trigger 3D has some nice incorporation of a music element in amongst the standard shooting mechanics. If you keep your character in place or limit yourself to making only small movements on and off, you'll only hear the basic rhythm of the respective track. But moving your character non-stop adds a second layer to the tune that makes you feel more impelled to plug in a set of headphones. I wouldn't consider the music integration to be a strong component to the gameplay -- at least compared to everything else -- but it's still great to see that the developers strived for something more here. And for all intents and purposes, the classical remixes that were prepared for this game sound really good. 

On the 3D Screen, you'll not only contend with enemy targets and the orange-coloured bullets they spew out. Bonus items will also gradually appear on a regular basis, including score multipliers, health restoratives, and energy pick-ups. These items are crucial for points, earning you Item Combo's when you keep grabbing items one after the other. Plus, because they appear regularly at a predictable rate, players must find a balance between shooting enemies and quickly going after said items before they disappear.

    Additionally, one of Dream Trigger 3D's most commendable features is its use of the system's 3D capabilities. I was immediately impressed by the use of 3D in this game. The visualizers seen in the backgrounds of the different levels you visit are quite mesmerizing when you view them for the first time. Witnessing them in 2D is one thing, but seeing them in full 3D is another thing altogether. On top of that, for doing a good job of racking up points, another layer of patterns will start to come out at you -- bubbles, comets, and other star-like effects. Some visualizers aren't that great, mind you, like the optical illusions featured in the Isolation levels. But as a whole, what they've done here works well.

    This cycle of setting up Sonar Pings and shooting exposed enemies continues for a few minutes before the song abruptly concludes. When this occurs in the normal stages, a mini-boss fight will take place, which requires you to tear down its defenses using repeated Sonar Pings so you can attack while it's exposed. There are also five boss stages (one per rank) which take not more than a few minutes to defeat using the same method. Beyond the fact that they are somewhat challenging and their attacks make use of the system's 3D effects, there's nothing exciting about these encounters due to the fact that they are very predictable.

Dream Trigger 3D is split up into four portions. In World Map mode, you traverse a large map, completing levels to earn Dream Points (DP) to open up new routes and stages. The number of DP earned in a single session depends on your Star Rating and whether or not you completed any challenges along the way. The game features 117 hidden secondary objectives in all, each displayed on the in-game Challenge List. And for the most part, they're not bad.

    The World Map also features Tracker Encounters where a purple monster will randomly appear and chase after you. If he catches up with you, you'll be forced to complete the stage he cornered you on except with a limited number of Sonar Pings. If you lose, all the DP you've earned will disappear, which makes this a very challenging (albeit unnecessary) add-on to the stage progression. And speaking of progression, there's nothing that really ties your navigation of the dreamscape with the levels you visit. Not that this is surprising, but some sort of introductory story sequence would have been nice to give this arcade shooter more background. 

    Beyond the main mode of play, you also have Free Play mode where you can select any of the stages you've unlocked in World Map mode and aim for a high-score. There's also a quick-paced Time Attack option and a Versus mode for multiplayer battles. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to test out this option, but based on the core mechanics and the additional head-to-head rules, it does sound fun -- that is, once you both understand the controls. 

So what can be said about the experience itself? Well, when I played this game for the first time, it took about 10 to 15 minutes just to clear the first level. So right away, I kept thinking I would have a long road ahead of me. Interestingly, after that first level, I made very few stumbles for the rest of my playthrough. And I'm going to chalk that up to the formidable sense of player progression this game provides.

    Once you get past the initial wow factor and the "dummy" phase of understanding that comes from the complex controls, you begin focusing on mastering the gameplay mechanics. After many hours of play, what follows is a skill-building approach that makes the game so much more satisfying than initially understood. Moving your line of sight from one screen to the other is hardly an effective method of surveying all that's happening, as you'll soon realize. As the white orbs provide hints as to the location of enemies, mental extrapolation can be used to approximate where to send a sonar ping so the ripple effect will bring the enemy forth onto the 3D screen. Keeping an eye on both screens simultaneously while controlling your character involves dexterity and hand-eye co-ordination, but once you understanding timing and the path enemies travel, monitoring those same enemy patterns hardly becomes taxing. 

    Another point of information that comes with time is how best to manipulate the game space to your advantage. As an alternative to using the Touch Screen to release Sonar Pings, the manual suggests pressing the A Button, and this way Sonar Pings will be placed where your avatar is on the playing field. But once you reach a certain point in your level of understanding with the game, this method will just be seen as inferior. Additionally, instead of holding and releasing the L or R Button to activate the lasers, you can also push your stylus against the sides of the Touch Screen to produce the same effect. Holding down the Trigger activation this way allows the song to run for as long as possible -- provided you place Sonar Pings wisely to refuel the draining that occurs. 

Coming to these realizations and working along with the other techniques you learn, using both screens to play totally becomes second nature. And when you think of the seemingly complex nature of the interface and how much you struggle to survive at the beginning of the game, it really is amazing to see how the game's true sense of depth becomes realized. The mechanics are indeed creative and satisfying, but there are some aspects to it that I have to question.

    For starters, with the way the game forces you to use one hand to hold your system, it can become a bit uncomfortable to hold after a while without proper support or the grip of a third-party accessory. Not totally related to the mechanics, but still worth noting nonetheless. Second, whenever you reach the end of a song in World Map mode, the way the game segways into the end-of-level boss feels abrupt. This has to do with, not only the timing of the track, but the fact that the enemies are set on a loop. With no set limits, they keep on coming even after a song is complete, and that rubbed me the wrong way. The looping is rectified in Time Attack mode, so there is some redemption there, but this flaw is actually directly tied to the biggest gripe I have with this game -- enemies are frustratingly predictable. 

    Some enemy patterns stay the same for all the dream type variations, but across the board, the same behaviours kept on repeating way too often. I can't even count how many times levels began with enemies coming in from the top left. It was so annoying to me that the enemies didn't come in from other angles and, more than that, manifested varying attack patterns. Some of the in-game Challenges help neutralize the repetition of the enemy patterns, like having you focus your attention on dodging enemy shots. But I still stand by the fact that the developers could've easily made this into a more developed part of the game. I hate to admit it, but once you realize that this flaw exists, your level of enjoyment never reaches the point it should be at. And so, in that sense, the depth on display here is more or less one-sided and not nearly as expansive as it could have been. 

Even though the aforementioned flaws will likely weaken your resolve to continue, players who press on will find Dream Trigger 3D's player development and strong immersive feel to be truly satisfying. Do not expect to fall in love with it right away. Some new concepts take time to settle with you, and I've discovered that to be all too true with this game. Longevity isn't a big concern for this game, given the kinds of options you have available. More threatening is the fact that the game does not have enough staying power to become something you want to return to on a whim many months later. 

    It sure does have some addicting moments but these are often short-lived; rightly so, because the game doesn't hold up that well over extended play sessions. And you know, it's disappointing for me to see this title underperform when a few tweaks would have made all the difference in the world. As is, cracks start to surface after an hour and a half of playtime (if not sooner) and only devoted players will see the game beyond that and experience its finer moments. 

    For a certainty, Dream Trigger 3D is tricky to recommend. There are key issues that hold the game back from reaching its full potential when it comes to enjoyment and the very depth it boasts about, but that's not to say the game isn't worth trying out. The sense of progression you experience is great, there's good use of 3D, and the action and strategy elements that make up the core fundamentals are very satisfying over time. If you have the patience to see it through, Dream Trigger 3D can be seen as a rewarding venture despite its flaws.

22/30 - Good

Gameplay 7/10 - Unique structure, comes together surprisingly well although it may not seem so at first, predictable enemies and not-so-exciting bosses
Presentation 8/10 - Great use of 3D with the background visualizers, musical touch is really well done, interface takes a while to get used to
Enjoyment 3/5 - Instills an excellent sense of player progression despite its intimidating exterior, repetition holds it back, sense of depth isn't fully realized
Extra Content 4/5 - World Map will last a few hours, two-player Versus, Time Attack, Challenges aren't bad, doesn't have much staying power weeks later

Equivalent to a score of 73% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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Dream Trigger 3D