Coming hot off the heels of one of the most successful handheld gaming machines in history, very few doubted that the 3DS would be a worthy successor, especially with the line up it showed off during and after its E3 unveiling. And yet, regardless of whichever factor you take into account (price too high, very few standout games at launch, poor download service), Nintendo’s newest time-waster didn’t so much as stumble out the gate as just trip over its own shoelaces. It wouldn’t be until the triple whammy of a major price cut, Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7 that the system would pick up some serious steam and recognition in the industry. That isn’t to say that the 3DS games library was lacking in that time, however. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D was a worthy remake of one of the greatest games ever made, Dead or Alive Dimensions brought the fighting jiggle-fest to top quality portable form, and Star Fox 64 3D made every fan’s wait for a new game in the series that little bit more bearable. One game that flew under the radar in that time was Dream Trigger 3D from D3Publisher, a subsidiary company of a certain Namco Bandai. Is this one a dream to hold off boredom, or a trigger to the temple?
Not unlike certain abstract games like Rez and Child of Eden, Dream Trigger 3D focuses on zany visuals and music to weave its tale, and thus is one of those experiences that can’t really be put into words, or as Nintendo would once have put it: “Playing is Believing.”
Dream Trigger is primarily a guiding shooter game that houses an initially sharp learning curve that even the tutorial at the beginning, helpful as it may be, doesn’t quite sum up fully. In a sense it feels like a puzzle game in regards to just getting to grips with the core concept. Summing it up briefly, players take control of a small ship (that changes shape and design with each stage) on the top screen with the Circle Pad, and use the Touch Screen as a radar grid of sorts to place sonar bars on, a limited number at a time. Doing this creates sonar ripples to expose the enemies on the top screen, whom you can obliterate by holding the left trigger down to fire a beam of concentrated heat. Using this laser protects your craft from enemy fire, but drains the Rhythm Bar at the bottom of the top screen that can only be replenished by revealing enemies with solar ripples. Keeping this laser attack going for as long as possible is the key to getting the stage music to play at full quality and to rank those points up. Collecting coloured triangle pieces that float up from time to time is also something to consider, as yellow ones replenish your 3-bar health, and red and blue replenish the Rhythm Bar, the former giving an unlimited charge for a time.
Keeping all of this in mind with foes whizzing about on the top screen, and an assortment of unique bosses to cap off each stage, feels quite overwhelming at first but certainly leaves an impression. D3Publisher have added a control scheme for left-handed players, with the face buttons and R trigger replacing the Circle Pad and L trigger, which is a helpful option but by no means as effective as full analogue control; Dream Trigger beat the Circle Pad Pro accessory to market by a vast amount of time so lack of support for it is understandable.
Dream Trigger’s list of modes looks brief on the title screen, but quickly shows its hand to be a winner. World Map Mode is the big one, where you move across a grid of nodes that each house a stage, and beating these can unlock points to move to surrounding nodes in whatever order you wish. A vast amount of nodes make sure players won’t finish it all in one sitting, and even then there’s Free Play Mode and Time Attack Mode afterwards to consider. Free Play is as you’d expect: play a number of certain stages at your own leisure. Time Attack is equally self-explanatory, and becomes the central leader board focus of the game, though the other modes have high score tables of their own too.
With 3D right there in the name one would expect Dream Trigger 3D to make sterling use of the hardware’s unique function, and, thankfully, it does so very effectively. The visuals with regular perception are crazy enough, with shapes and colours that can’t even be explained filling the top screen constantly, and adding 3D to it creates what is easily one of the 3DS’ most striking games. Luckily there is no advantage the 3D brings that would put out those incapable of perceiving it, but it does make seeing when to collect those triangles a tad easier.
The music of Dream Trigger is another bullet point entirely. Stages begin with a slow tune that quickly ramps up in intensity once you get going, and keeping it up there to hear the tune in its entirety is the stage’s true reward, not just completion or a high score. A range of catchy tunes accompany the stages, ranging from slight techno beats to soothing melodies. The game doesn’t so much as rely on the timing of your shots to determine the beats to the background music, just that you keep your shots going.
Although Dream Trigger sadly lacks any form of online communication, be it competitive play or worldwide leader boards, it does do both these things in offline conditions. Versus Mode handles the competitive side of things, where the other player can stun you if they hit you with a solar ping, and where overall score determines the victor, not whoever got hit the least. A fun mode to be sure, though both players needing their own copy of the game does hamper things somewhat, and this being the only multiplayer function puts more prudence on the single-player aspects of the game, which do hold up well. Dream Trigger 3D certainly stands out as one of the more unique experiences of the 3DS library, and certainly one of the least known.
Polarizing and overwhelming to begin with, but once everything clicks into place, it’s a gameplay experience like few others. A ‘lefties’ option is appreciated, if limited by hardware restrictions.
In a word, trippy. Shapes and shades flying everywhere, even more so with the 3D slider moved upwards. Enemy onslaughts can become distracting in later levels, but the visuals are generally clear to navigate through.
The tunes have about as much identity as the levels themselves, both in how they work and the satisfying way in which they spring to life. Headphones are the way to go with Dream Trigger when you nail the gameplay mechanics.
Lack of online function is a downer, but there is plenty here for the solo player with an extensive main campaign and side modes, together with a brief versus function and leader boards.
Dream Trigger 3D is one of those games that would have hugely benefitted from eShop presence, be it a demo or a smaller downloadable version, as while the concept in itself is difficult to grasp initially, the payoff in grasping a higher score and hearing the stage theme in its entirety is more than worth it. As far as effective 3D showcases and unique experiences on Nintendo’s newest handheld go, you’ll find fewer more so than this.