Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
Non-competitive roguelite-card game mash-up Dream Quest was my favourite game of 2014 – but that year I played it entirely on an iPad. The PC release came a year later and without fanfare. Fast forward further to last December and it finally scored a Steam release, though I fear that came too late to make the impact it needed.
Of course, it’s the art that’s to blame. Look past it, I beg you.
The craft of this thing, underneath those squiffy hand-drawn graphics. The sheer amount of possibilities and balancing crammed below that crude skin. Traditionally, a videogame adaption of collectible card games leads heavily towards the competitive – Hearthstone being the most visible – but Dream Quest locks the cardplay to solo adventures.
You creep cautiously around single-screen dungeons, using strategic thinking to devise the best order in which to tackle lurking enemies. Take on someone too strong and it’s likely that their deck’s power will far outstrip yours, but focus only on picking off the weak and you won’t power up enough yourself to then stand a chance against said strong’uns. It’s an extremely delicate balancing act, interwoven with turn-based card gaming in which increasingly complex and devastating combinations can be made.
All the while, you’re upgrading both your deck and your character by visiting stores or completing micro-quests – building, building, building with the goal of survival. Every layer of the dungeon gets tougher. Some of the monsters’ card abilities will seem rampantly unfair. They’re not. You just have to learn. And you will learn, by failing and by dying. An archive of knowledge will build in your head, remembering exactly what each card does, what it best combines with, and how to survive it.
How can the surface appearance possibly matter when the design is this spectacular?