November 29, 2012 7:00 PM | Staff
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each of the games in the latest bundle from IndieGames' co-created site, Indie Royale.]
If I wanted to phone in this final Indie Royale profile and nip off for a nap instead, I could just list the acclaim and awards that Cockroach's episodic series The Dream Machine has garnered since it was launched and leave it like that. It was an IGF finalist, an IndieCade finalist, an IndiePub contest winner, an Into the Pixel art award winner and more. The third episode finally launched after a cliffhanger and a break, making the jump to Steam at the same time. With two chapters left on the horizon, now is a great time to catch up on the highly acclaimed series. But awards only paint so much of the picture; they attest to the quality of The Dream Machine without actually demonstrating how it all comes together. So yes, I don't think I should phone it in.
How it comes together is with cardboard, clay, glue and love. The Dream Machine is one of those wonderful little games that relies on photography and stop motion animation over polygons. The clay and cardboard approach gives it a very organic feel, with a world that feels alive despite its constructed nature. Chapter 2 does perhaps the best job demonstrating the artistic merit of this lo-fi approach with some truly stunning bits of set decoration, but the entire series is packed with wonderful detail, from the impressive workings of the machine in the basement to the popsicle stick deckchairs aboard the ship in Chapter 3. Phrases like this can get tossed around carelessly, but the graphical prowess demonstrated in The Dream Machine truly deserves to be called a work of art.
But what gets overlooked sometimes in the buzz surrounding the game is the storytelling and gameplay. The Dream Machine is one of those somewhat uncommon adventure games that drops the comedy hook. Don't get me wrong, because comedy and adventure games is the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups of game design. However, it's wonderful to see a game take its plot, pacing and writing seriously to convey a thoughtful, mature narrative. It deals with dreams, obviously, but in a more grounded way than the gimmicky Inception or surrealist fare like LSD. Better yet, it doesn't shy away from occasionally seeking to disturb or horrify you, without making that the main objective. The Dream Machine simply combines intuitive, clever puzzles with an engaging narrative that goes to weird and disturbing places while also packing in heartwarming, sweet moments. I wish I could say more, but you definitely wouldn't want to be spoiled.
And like many episodic games, the quality rises with each instalment. The first two chapters were certainly clever and lovely to look at, but the third one is even more terrific. Chapter 3 retains the best qualities, but also adds even better puzzle design, a very creative use of the overall premise and a tightly constructed setting that remains engaging despite the limited access. I was certainly enjoying the game, but the third chapter was definitely the moment that truly hooked me. You can count me among those eagerly anticipating the future story arcs, and if you're not on that list as well then there's never been a better time to give The Dream Machine a try.
[Anomaly: Warzone Earth, Puzzle Agent 2, The Dream Machine: Chapters 1-3, Children of the Nile: Enhanced Edition, and Adventure Apes and the Mayan Mystery are available in the Stuffing Bundle on Indie Royale.]