I suppose if you’ve never read a book before, this game might entice you to pick one up. Otherwise, it’s a captivating setup with no payoff.
The game starts promising enough. You slide the screen from right to left as the horizon begins to alight with the sunrise. You move the preamble across as waves rock the bottom of the screen and the faint sound of music grows louder as you slide. Then the title, The Sailor’s Dream comes into full view and the music is all around you now, filling your ears with the tune of adventure.
Your senses heightened in anticipation by the promise of whimsy and mystery, you slide onward where the music fades and you’re left with a lighthouse on a small island. It stands broken, isolated, forgotten, but the beat of waves against its stony trunk tells you something’s inside; something alive. You scroll into the lighthouse, but instead of drawing it nearer, it flips forward like vertical pages in a book. Its imagery squashed beneath a series of yellowed and worn pages until you’re in the dark. Nothing but small balls of green light glow from the top of your screen, so you scroll up to see a broken wooden door along a garden path. Scrolling forward, you find yourself lost in the dark again, inside a blackened room with no sense of where you’re going or why.
A navigational menu tells you there are broken stairs ahead… that sounds like a mystery reeling you in… Another appears, ‘Top of the Lighthouse’ it reads, so of course you’ll proceed. Then a pipe… in a dimly lit room sticks out to you, as though proffering you to smoke. You draw back, inhale and before the nicotine calms your senses, somewhere, deep in the recesses of memory, a light shines forth and reminds you why you smoked; why you smoked in this room. It’s because of the girl… who needed love or she would burn this place down…
Fascinating, right? I started playing this game on the iPhone, but shut it down to play it on the iPad’s screen; I wanted to be eclipsed by this game. The problem is that the dazzling opening is all there is to it.
You spend the majority of the game in black hallways, and the mystique of exploring dies long before the game is through. The navigation is omnipresent which dilutes the mystery and fun. For instance, I assumed the “mysterious passageway” would be revealed for what it really is once I progressed further… but it is always the “mysterious passageway.” This is bad design. See, because you can navigate and scroll the various locales, the developers (Simogo) have provided the illusion of interaction, but you don’t interact with the world; you’re not an explorer, you’re a voyeur watching through the eyes of someone far less interesting than yourself.
Occasionally, you’ll find room inside one of the islands that has an item, and the item offers a small page of narration (no more than 300 words) to help you learn more about the narrative… like the narrative is supposed to be the driving force behind “playing.” Here’s the story though (SPOILER): a little girl burned down the house. If there’s more to it than that it’s forgettable. See, the story is heavy-handed in foreshadowing and retarded in subtlety. From the first clue(?) I knew a little girl would burn down the house.
Surprisingly, Simogo is one of the acclaimed ‘Story-tellers’ of the indie gaming world. Their Device 6 and Year Walk are constantly recommended by the editors-that-be in itunes and are always featured on top-purchased apps lists, but for a developer that’s heralded as an innovative story-teller, The Sailor’s Dream is as unremarkable as it is contrived.
Furthermore, Simogo has littered the “game” with puzzle red herrings. What are puzzle red herrings, you ask? At one point, I was in the Celestial Sanctuary and I came across a room littered with stars with one moon orbiting around them.
As the orbiting moon passes the others, musical notes play — interesting, no? More intriguing, you can move the stars to achieve different pitches and even slow the pace of the moon. To what end and purpose? Well, interestingly enough, in another room, there’s a star chart with very clear coordinates.
I thought I was supposed to arrange the stars in the previous room to be the same as the star chart. That makes sense! But alas, after countless tries, nothing changed, nothing achieved — not even an inspired tune.
This wasn’t the only red herring that there was yet more to be discovered, time and again, I’d leave a location only to have text appear and say, “There are still secrets hidden away,” but (spoiler) there are not.
Gateway to Books?
The one conclusion I could come up with for why The Sailor’s Dream exists is that the developers want people to read books (or short stories), but thought a text adventure wasn’t enough.
The irony is, I have much more patience for a book (even a bad book) than I do for The Sailor’s Dream. This became most noticeable for me in the lighthouse where this one room had a cauldron of words (more or less). The words slowly (very slowly) spew out from the pot so you tilt your head perpendicular to the screen to read them. Basically, it’s more foreshadowing, more little girl, more burning. I read through the whole thing because I’m a completionist, but sweet lord, hasten the text!
Don’t buy The Sailor’s Dream, it doesn’t offer enough story, music, or game to be of much use to anyone. It’s an idea never fully explored.
Perhaps the strangest thing of all, you’re not even experiencing the sailor’s dream, but the sailor is using mnemonic devices to remember what happened — I suppose The Sailor’s Mnemonic Devices wouldn’t have as much search traffic in the app store, but still. The narrative is told through objects you find and the rest is a blurry recollection. I mean the sailor can’t even piece together the old lighthouse: the black hallways are his gaps in memory. The convenient islands exist as the sailor remembers them — nothing burned — and they’re completely isolated in his vast ocean of memories…
But if you’re going to make a game exploring the human psyche, do it all the way, not halfway.
PS. All this said, the 7 sea shanties are great, so kudos to the team (lady?) behind those.
For more iOS reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive