Dune Sea (PC) Review
Unique art style
Art direction negatively impacts gameplay
Video games are art, and as such are meant to illicit an emotion from the viewer. This can either heighten an already existing emotion, or sometimes it’s meant to create the opposite, like creating a relaxing feeling after being stressed out. Relaxing or “Zen” games are popular enough to have its own genre, and the goal of playing one is to truly relax. The mantra being to not worry about the destination but enjoy the JOURNEY of the game. In this instance, you are a Canada goose that has been separated from his flock, and must venture onward to find his way home to his family.
Having a goose fly in a vast, barren desert would not be the first setting that comes to mind, but it is an interesting choice. With its warm colors, soft music, and bright atmosphere evokes a calm soothing feeling. Gently moving the goose in the air with gentle flaps to miss the rocks lets you stay in control, instead of being a classic auto side-scroller. The background is beautiful with a retro low-polygon look to it, but with great attention to detail. However, it’s so nice that it also hampers gameplay to a pretty awful degree. Because it’s so bright, the sky is very white and causes the player to lose focus on where the actual goose is which becomes very annoying and of course leads to mistakes. Even without losing sight of the goose, the well-made background is nearly identical to the well-made foreground, but only the background has a hit box, so either you weave like a madman to avoid something that you can pass through, or you become Zen, and then get slammed into a rock face. Not knowing the difference between the layers on screen is a big problem that should have been very easy to deal with in the art direction phase of development.
When not face planting into the walls, it is fun to flap your wings to gain altitude, but it is very slow to do that, so its more akin to “flappy bird” having to anticipate your movement 2 seconds ahead of time, so that you don’t hit the ground or a wall. There are also landing platforms that let you sit a moment, but even now I don’t know what their intended purpose is, since there is literally no directions in this game. Being a checkpoint makes the most sense, but it would be nice to know for sure. There are also other controls like zooming forward, which almost always seems like a bad idea since you can’t cancel out of it until the animation is done and you hit a wall. There is a mechanic to gain more of your flock back by honking near one of them in range, but again I have no idea what it means to do so.
Unfortunately, Dune Sea is the worst of both worlds. It is not Zen enough to be “Journey”, but it is not fun enough to be simple 2D scroller. With just the right amount of control given to the player to mess up again and again, but not enough to change the outcome. It’s a good idea, and a cool setting, (Goose in the Desert?), but with enough small mistakes that add up to not wanting to play it again. Video games are definitely art, but they are art that’s meant to be interacted with time and time again, and that’s just not the case here.