Indie games are everywhere, and they can be hit-and-miss quite often. Luckily, Balthazar’s Dream is one of the few instances where a game just about dodged being a miss. Balthazar’s Dream is a successfully crowdfunded 2D platformer game by Psilocybe Games in which the player takes control of a dog named Balthazar. The game takes place in Balthazar’s dream, where he explores various different dreamscapes and is on a mission to find his owner, Dustin. Along the way, Balthazar must solve all sorts of puzzles and survive many different dangers put in place by dark forces who wish to stop him from finding his owner.
The game begins with Balthazar entering this dream world, where Dustin greets him. Dustin is just a ghostly entity floating around, and we quickly learn that Dustin is somehow able to completely understand what Balthazar is saying. For the first chapter of the game, Dustin acts more as a tutorial guide for the player to get to grips with all the game mechanics and controls. It’s quite a smooth system, making the tutorial not actually feel like a tutorial, so it doesn’t bring you out of the game, but rather keeps you fully immersed. The story is only a few hours long — no surprise for an indie title — and although it’s interesting to play through the perspective of a dog, there isn’t anything particularly special or mind-blowing about this story. There was a fair amount of humour throughout the game, which was enjoyable to see, but when it comes to platformers like this, if there isn’t a story that is engaging enough, then players will quickly find themselves skipping over the dialogue scenes so that they can move on to solving puzzles and reaching the end.
When you’ve chosen your dog and start going through the initial tutorial chapter, you learn about the small dog bone meter at the bottom of your screen; this is essentially your energy and fear meter merged into one. When climbing ropes or throwing balls, you’ll see this meter deplete. Once it hits the end, you won’t have the energy to climb any more ropes. When you also come across items that could scare Balthazar, such as a vacuum, this too depletes the energy bar and it even results in Balthazar being forced to run away at a high speed. Every now and then, you can use the fear depletion to your advantage as a bit of a speed boost to jump over large gaps. During the first boss fight, you can use it to jump to higher ground to throw the ball at the boss and bring him down.
As for the map mechanics, you can find many things around the world for Balthazar to interact with, such as balls, switches, and crazy psychedelic plants that reverse your controls temporarily. Whilst most of these mechanics were fine and helped with the game’s progression, I did take issue with the whole “throwing the ball” mechanic. During various parts of the game, you’re required to use the ball to take out some enemies or throwing it somewhere so that Balthazar can chase it and get a small speed boost. It was very flimsy, to say the least, and most times would just be completely annoying to use. If I saw there was an opportunity to complete a segment without the ball somehow, I would jump at the chance to take it.
The game itself is split up into three different segments: the bedroom, the outdoor forest, and space. Each area that you play through has its own unique obstacles that you have to overcome as well as a boss, which is a deformed version of something from the real world, that Balthazar considers a nightmare. You will die a lot, and I mean a lot, when you play through these areas, but thankfully there are save points dotted around everywhere, making this game a lot easier.
As for the game design of Balthazar’s Dream, each of the areas had a great psychedelic look to them, making it a real delight to play through. It was a very colourful game, and each level was its own unique thing. It is difficult to play this game without being distracted by its scenery, and it was a very multi-layered game. The pixelated art style also enhanced the overall charm and gave this game a bit of a nostalgic effect. Along with the game design, the soundtrack itself was really fascinating to listen to. The music gave off a very dreamlike feel, helping to immerse the player deeper into these mysterious and “trippy” worlds. It made use of simple piano medleys to establish an eerie atmosphere and would build upon that with bells and strings to create a one-of-a-kind fantasy feel for the player.
Although Balthazar’s Dream had some flaws, it was still a unique indie game to play. Playing as Balthazar was an enjoyable experience, and the worlds that I traversed through were fascinating to look at. There were many moments where I stopped to enjoy the surroundings and listen to the music playing, and this is what makes Balthazar’s Dream a delight. If the story was something a little more memorable, then I think Psilocybe Games would have had a real big hit on their hands. Nevertheless, this was an overall lovely game.