Dream Trigger 3D by D3 Publisher for the 3DS is not just a lot of 3’s and D’s. It’s a shmup that destroys all of your preconceived notions of shmups. It’s frustrating at times and it will leave your hands cramped (quite literally and painfully). But it will also appeal to your love of difficult, old-school arcade games because it’s fun, addictive, and a breath of fresh air in a time when some games don’t even have a failure option. But do the benefits outweigh the frustration and pain?
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Developer: Art Co.
Genre: Brain-Melting Shoot ‘Em Up
Release Date: May 10, 2011
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Dream Trigger 3D is set in a dream world, in which you have to defeat wave after wave of monsters – first by exposing them with sonar, and then by shooting them and navigating your character over them. There are four game types – World Map Mode, Free Play Mode, Time Attack Mode, and Versus Mode. World Map Mode is the meat of the game – this is basically the story mode. Free Play Mode allows you to hone your skills on any one level from World Map Mode that you’ve already unlocked, giving you a chance to practice perfecting it. Time Attack Mode lets you test how quickly you can beat a level you’ve already unlocked, and Versus Mode lets you challenge a friend over local wireless. Each level consists of strings of enemies and then ends with a mini-boss. As you defeat levels, build up stars depending on how well you did, and finish up challenges, more paths open up and more levels appear. The game has several different “Ranks,” including “Lucidity,” “Tranquility,” and “Anxiety,” as well as different “Types” of levels, including “Insight,” “Divinity,” “Diversion,” and “Wrath.” At the end of each section is a big boss battle, which has a boss with multiple stages as well as enemies that populate the level.
That’s what goes on in the game. How you accomplish what goes on in the game is a different matter entirely. Each level starts out with you in the center of the screen – both the top and the bottom. A line, called the “Rhythm Bar,” goes vertically across the screens every few seconds. If you draw on the touch screen, as the line hits where you’ve drawn, it makes a sound. This is called the “Sonar Ping.” If an enemy – enemies are initially invisible, except as purple dots on the bottom screen – is hit by the sonar, it appears in the top screen through the “Sonar Ripple.” Once they are visible, you hit the trigger buttons or the B button to shoot your lasers and navigate your character over the enemies to destroy them. In the meantime, they’re shooting little bullets at you, which you can also destroy with your laser. But your laser runs out quickly, and can only be replenished by using sonar – which also runs out, but is replenished each time the Rhythm Bar goes across the screen. So if you fly into the midst of enemies, holding down the shoulder button, and you’re almost out of ammo, you’ll take damage. You can only get hit four times before you die, though you can pick up power-ups that will give you back one piece of health, which is shown by three yellow circles around your character.
Sound confusing? It is. You have to keep your eye on two screens, while using the stylus in your right hand to frenetically keep highlighting the enemies, while you hold the 3DS in your left hand, navigating your character around with the analog nub or the directional buttons, and more often than not hold down the left shoulder button because you’re afraid to not be pouring lasers onto the enemies. This leads to hand cramps, frustration, and ultimately, an intense amount of satisfaction. When you’re playing a game that is unforgivingly difficult, there’s no better feeling than when you get into a groove, figure out how the game is supposed to feel, and start winning.
As you finish each level, the amount of points you accrue determines how many Dream Points (DP) you get, which let you navigate the world. Points are obtained through defeating enemies and gathering items. When items are collected in succession, you can build up item bonuses, which net you more points. But defeating enemies while paying attention to where the items pop up and gathering them as they appear before they fade away can be tricky, especially with the changing colors of the backgrounds. The 3D ends up helping a lot here – it’s easier to see the items with the 3D turned all the way up. The more points you get, the more stars you get for that level, and the more DP you receive.
There are four types of items – blue ones, which give you points; yellow ones, which give you health; red ones, which give you unlimited ammo; and purple ones, which grant you temporary invincibility. The items appear in the background, translucent at first, and then become more opaque. You have a few seconds to grab them, after which they become translucent again, fading into the foreground. They are easier to see in 3D because they come toward you, standing out from the rest of the level, no matter how wild it might be.
There are also over 100 challenges in the game, making the game highly replayable. Unlockable challenges include destroying a certain number of enemies (overall as well as in a stage), getting all of the items in a stage, beating several levels in a row, beating several levels in a row without dying, and defeating an end boss without taking any damage. Defeating levels, building up your number of stars, and racking up challenges are what unlock levels and paths between them. You can move between them by using DP – it takes one DP to move one spot, even if you’ve already beaten that particular level.
So what does all of this mean, when put together in one game? I’ll be honest. When I first started playing the game, it took me hours just to beat the first level. I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t realize that I had to float over the enemies to defeat them, nor did I know that I could destroy the enemies’ bullets with my laser. There was no tutorial at the start of the game – or, if there was, I somehow missed it. It took hours of frustration before I finally combed through all the menus and found the tutorial, buried in the options. The game is intense and unforgiving, and will cramp your hand horribly and leave you with Nintendo thumb. It’s also incredibly difficult to look at two screens at once, or to know which screen you’re supposed to be looking at.
All that being said, once I got the hang of it, I went from being unable to beat a single level to beating 30 levels in a row. That’s not an exaggeration, either. I spent two hours doing nothing but playing it, and the time flew past. I haven’t beaten it yet, mainly because I can’t figure out how to unlock all of the levels – I’ve been going back and replaying many of the levels to unlock more challenges and reveal more levels and paths. On top of all that, there’s one more aspect that will have you hitting your head against a wall in frustration: “a Tracker has appeared.”
The Tracker is a some purple thing that appears on the World Map and makes its way across the map towards you. It’s slow enough that, once you’ve got enough levels unlocked, you can maneuver your way around it. But if you don’t have enough DP, or you find yourself trapped, you’re in a lot of trouble. Once it lands on you, it automatically launches you into whichever level you’re on – with no health. Not only that, but every time I’ve been sucked into one, it has seemed like the Sonar Pings aren’t as effective at exposing the enemies, meaning the enemies float around and shoot bullets at me and I can’t shoot back… and also meaning that my ammo wasn’t replenishing because I wasn’t exposing them.
Sounds hard, but not impossible, or terribly frustrating, right? Well, it wouldn’t be so bad, but when you die, you lose all of your DP. Normally, when you die, it just means that you start over on the World Map at whatever level you were defeated on, your DP intact, ready to continue your journey. But when a Tracker defeats you, you have to start from scratch, wherever you landed on the map. This can be unbearably frustrating, with a level of difficulty only found in the more hardcore games found in arcades and on the PSN and XBLA.
While the game does have good and bad features, one thing is certain – the game looks and sounds amazing. The backgrounds, enemies, and even your own character rotate on each level – my favorite is an ocean theme, in which the enemies are squids and you are a dolphin. The 3D works incredibly well here, highlighting the colorful backgrounds. The music is great, if a bit loud at times – it can drown out the Sonar Pings and make the game sound like a jumbled mess of noise.
Dream Trigger 3D is a success and a failure, all wrapped into an innovative package. It succeeds in that it brings the player a highly fun and entertaining game that works well in 3D. But it fails in that it’s intensely difficult, can be terribly unforgiving, and doesn’t explain enough of what’s going on or how to play the game. I absolutely loved the game, and will continue to play it until I beat it. There’s too much going on here for me to recommend this to any but the most hardcore gamers, the ones who are constantly looking for a challenge and love to have games with high replayability on the go. In other words: casual players, stick with Mario.
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Dream Trigger 3D was provided by D3 Publisher for the purposes of this review.