A week ago the Independent Games Festival announced its Student Showcase selections for 2010. The Student Showcase has for quite a few years been a great place to see some of the best unique games and the upcoming future talent within games. Standouts from year’s past include such games like Cloud who’s team went on to create thatgamecompany (and their two award-winning games flOw and flower) and Narbacular Drop who’s ideas and team members were eventually repurposed in Portal for Valve.
This year is as strong as any other with standouts like Continuity, Paper Cakes, and Devil’s Tuning Fork. But the game that stands out as a whole experience the most is the lovely Dreamside Maroon, a game of sorts that definitely takes a little inspiration from games like Cloud, Flower, and Noby Noby Boy.
In Dreamside Maroon you play a strange little creature with a singular goal: to walk on the surface of the moon. Naturally the only way to reach the moon is by jumping on top of your infinitely-growing vine and snake your way through the starry night. There are no enemies and the puzzles are few and far between. The game is mostly pure exploration as you ride your vine across the floating islands searching for little lanterns to light and fireflies to collect. This non-threatening gameplay combined with a soothing soundtrack and a lush visual style creates an immensely relaxing environment.
The most obvious cues for Dreamside Maroon come from the games of thatgamecompany. The gameplay is highly reminiscent of flower with the same focus on moving across a landscape and finding little objects of interest that further progression. There little in the way of confrontation or conflict, but instead the player gets to dictate their own pace in completing the game. Superficially also the game lifts a lot of the stylistic elements of these games with watercolor paintings used during cutscenes and abbreviated lines of dialogue and text extending the story.
But the growth and shrink mechanic of the game also reminds me a lot of Noby Noby Boy, the game/toy/piece of abstractness from the mind of Keita Takahashi. There’s a little bit of that ingenuity in the design of the levels, especially in places where the growth of the vine and its weird movement patterns naturally lead to the next area of exploration. And creating a little spiral around a lantern trying to collect the newly-released fireflies feels just right.
Like most student game entries Dreamside Maroon suffers a little from areas that could use a little polishing. The level design is weak in a few places and they could integrate the uniqueness of growing and stretching the vine in a lot more interesting ways then they do currently. But still, the experience of the Dreamside Maroon overrides these concerns while you’re playing it. Here’s hoping the developers of Dreamside Maroon can take this idea and run with it.