Balthazar's Dream is a new indie platformer developed by Psilocybe Games. The game revolves around a dog's dream and his ability to save his master. The concept may initially seem silly, but a heartfelt story, brilliantly pixelated level design, and an emotional and trippy soundtrack all make this game surprisingly engaging.
All of the traditional platforming staples are present such as jumping on platforms and defeating enemies, but there are tons of unusual and fun implements that set this game apart such as shooting dog bones and shaking off dastardly ticks. Though short, this doggy dream will take you on unforeseen adventures ranging from your master's bedroom to having to find your way back to Earth from the depths of space. The game constantly throws in new level design elements and obstacles that make it feel fresh throughout the whole experience.
Balthazar's Dream can be bought on Steam for $14.99.
Balthazar is no ordinary dog: in a dream, he immediately begins by talking to his ethereal master. Unaware of whether or not he is alive, we find out that his owner, Dustin, was hit by a car and is on his death bed. Balthazar must accompany his master throughout the dream and save his life. Dustin is present for much of the game, but he acts more as a giver of hints and offers a comedic backdrop to a drab situation.
The story is nothing spectacular, but the game does possess a great sense of humor that adds a ton of decoration to an otherwise simple tale. Dustin's frisbee is tossed into space, Soviet dog Laika is discovered by Balthazar, and a doctor quips that Dustin thinks he can talk to dogs. I often find myself bemused by the characters dialogue and my surroundings (such as rabid cats and doghouses in space). The developers really played with everything in the game (since it's a dream) and their personality and wit shines throughout. Every new platforming element and one liner compliments and justifies a platformer revolving around a dog's dream and made me wonder why there has never been one before.
Balthazar's Dream is a unique platformer. You play as a dog–you can select the breed–and the game is centered around a dream with a lot of doggy characteristics.
First off, you have a bone meter on the top of the screen that can be depleted. When Balthazar climbs ropes and isn't on solid ground the meter slowly gets drained. If the bar completely empties, the dog falls off of whatever object it is on. The mechanic works well and adds a little complexity to some tried and tested platforming structures.
However, this bar also controls Balthazar's fear. If he is scared of something, such as a vacuum cleaner or wild boar, then the meter will drop and controlling him becomes difficult. At the same time, the game forces you to use this mechanic to jump long distances since Balthazar can get launched by energy waves that get emitted from terrifying enemies. Sometimes you need to ride these energy waves to leap to a far off platform. The mechanic is interesting in theory, but it's definitely clunky in practice. The game's non-existent loading made these moments less painful to re-attempt, but I didn't enjoy these portions of the game and found they chopped up the game's pacing.
Other gameplay mechanics included tossing balls, hitting switches to lower doors, and dodging ticks and psychedelic plants that reverse your controls temporarily. I loved most of the game mechanics except for instances when I had to throw balls. The controls were not all that accurate, and there were parts of the game where it felt like I had to rely on luck to complete a puzzle with a lucky toss.
The game is divided into three different areas, and it runs through ten chapters. The first area is the bedroom, the second an outdoor forest, and the final area is outer-space and the city skies. Each area had really cool obstacles and bad guys that were cleverly related to dog life. For instance, ticks were rampant in the forest, and if a tick lands on you just must shake it off against the wall by button mashing. Vacuum cleaners and cats filled the bedroom. and it was fun to blast down kites and fireworks with dog bones as I flew across the city upon Dustin's frisbee.
Balthazar's Dream is definitely challenging. You will likely die many times throughout this game. Luckily, save points are graciously abundant, and you never have to play for more than a few minutes between them. I was extremely thankful for this since the game does have some tough moments, and the high variety of gameplay means you will likely have to die a couple times to learn how to proceed via trial and error.
There were some level design issues that definitely caused me a slight headache. The game is faster than a greyhound on a track, and when you die, you immediately respawn, so the game doesn't seem to reset. The level continues on, and sometimes this means that a moving platform will be impossible to reach without dying again since it may have continued to move further away from you. Usually, this is not an issue, and even when it is, you will immediately respawn again, but it did leave me to wonder why the developers didn't fix the occasionally choppy level design.
No platformer is complete without some fun boss fights, and Balthazar's Dream definitely delivers. There are a few boss fights scattered throughout the game, and each of them felt specialized and required clever methods and items to win. For example, the first boss requires you to use balls to hit the cat while fending off his horde of feline friends, while another boss fight will require you to call upon forest creatures and Dustin's finely tuned frisbee toss to ward off a tough foe. I loved the boss fights, and each one utilized the game's mechanics while still offering some fresh new gameplay ingredients.
Visuals and Sound
The artistic expression and atmosphere were definitely a high note for Balthazar's Dream, especially the graphics. The game is extremely pixelated (intentionally) and the art direction is utterly gorgeous and full of lush details. The backgrounds were colorful, and I was stunned by the moving elements found in each level. Fireflies and falling leaves seemed to dance around the stage, and I loved passing hot-dog planets and meteorites as I tried to find my way back to Earth. There is an amazing attention to detail here, and I loved playing a game that reminded me of the Sega Genesis era all the while having beautifully crafted layers and lighting that blasted me back to the current generation of indie gaming.
The soundtrack was composed extremely well, and the music always fit the dreamy atmosphere. Slightly eerie piano pieces and beautiful bells and strings all strike the right notes throughout the adventure. Not only does the music complement the atmosphere, but it's extremely catchy and empowers an otherwise typical story. It reminded me that I was in a dream, but it grabbed my emotions and kept me invested in Balthazar finding his owner and saving his life. The soundtrack is even for sale on Steam assuming you purchased the game already.
While there were some glaring flaws present in Balthazar's Dream I definitely found myself singing the game praise more often than I was cursing it. Psilocybe Games did an amazing job in crafting a unique platformer, and the aesthetics are masterful. The gameplay is unbalanced at times, but I found it worth trudging through the clunky moments to see the next beautiful area and what was going to be thrown at me next.
The throwing mechanics definitely caused me some frustration in the first area, and the controls could have been mapped more properly. There was also more forced trial and error in the space area than I would have cared for. Some of my deaths felt necessary since the level moved so fast, and there seemed to be only one prescribed method I was supposed to have found to survive. Still, I loved hopping on beds, trying to avoid ticks, and the SHMUP portion of the game.
It's worth noting that Balthazar's Dream is only a couple hours long. It's a very vivid and exciting couple hours, but the game is definitely short. The game is well worth your time, but for the $14.99 price tag, the game may feel slim.
In the end, this game definitely felt like an early project by a developer with a ton of potential, but the personality and versatility of this indie title make it a very special adventure, and those who choose to play Balthazar's Dream should definitely find a lot to love and a fresh experience. It will be exciting to see what Psilocybe Games continue to do with this title and their future works.
|+ Bold and versatile level design||– On the short side for the price|
|+ Beautiful art and soundtrack||– Throwing balls is not fun|
|+ Possesses a great sense of humor||– Gameplay felt occasionally unbalanced|