Even in the busiest of seasons, smaller games deserve some attention. In that spirit, welcome to Month of Coverage Club. Come back each day in November for a full-length impressions piece based on a hidden gem you've probably never heard of.
Dogs. They’re faithful and fiercely loyal creatures. They're also extremely cute. These are some basic facts that Balthazar's Dream knows all too well. This simple and fairly straightforward 2D platformer oozes both charm and a surprising amount of emotional weight. Balthazar is the titular hero of this tale, but he's no ordinary hero. He's a faithful dog struck by tragedy when an ice cream truck hits his beloved owner, Dustin. Like any good dog, he refuses to leave his owner's comatose side.
As he sleeps at the foot of Dustin's hospital bed, Balthazar drifts into a deep slumber where he's transported into a magical dream world full of canine wonders. He senses two entities in this world. One that he recognizes to be the incorporeal image of Dustin and the other is a darker and more insidious entity. The pixel art aesthetic is immediately eye-catching and pretty. It's simple but effective, which is a great way of summarizing the appeal of Balthazar's Dream.
A straightforward yet touching premise paves the way for a neat platformer that doesn't try to be anything more and doesn't outstay its welcome. It would be easy to criticize it for being too simple if it wasn't $2.99. When the game is barely more than a cup of coffee, it's hard to complain about depth and length. Balthazar's Dream only does a few things, but it does those things well. The platforming is tight and satisfying, the puzzles are rudimentary but challenging enough, and the boss fights are fun and effective.
Although the premise is somewhat heart-wrenching, the game layers it with a sense of humor that keeps things from getting too tragic. There are things that will scare Balthazar, pushing him away when the fear meter at the top of the screen depletes. These typically include larger, more aggressive animals like wild boars, but they can also include bathtubs. Because we all know how much dogs hate a bath. Meanwhile, the first boss is a nasty fat cat called Linux. This fun, dog-centric tone gives the game a fun charm that'll be hard not to enjoy for fans of man's best friend.
This light tonal touch is a much-needed addition, especially when the surprisingly sweet piano-driven soundtrack kicks in. There's an ethereal and almost psychedelic quality to the game's atmosphere. The whole thing takes place in a dream world, and the music adds a lot to this sensation. The pleasant (although occasionally eerie) melodies provide an excellent soundscape to glide through this faithful canine's hopeful dreams.
The platforming isn't extremely hard, but it can certainly be challenging. The fear mechanic mentioned earlier plays a big part in many of the platforming puzzles. Being pushed away from the object of fear gives you a strong momentum. In turn, this allows you to throw yourself further or bounce higher. It's a satisfying mechanic once you get used to it, even if it is a little fiddly. Getting the timing just right to launch yourself off a platform as you run away from a raging boar is a rewarding feeling. There are also balls that good-boy-Balthazar will sort of magnetize to once he lets go.
Throw a ball onto a platform ahead of you, for example, and you'll be able to fling yourself towards it. Another idea that's fun to perform once you get past its slightly unintuitive nature. Although Balthazar's Dream is a pretty basic game, it can still be easy to get a little confused. This is mainly because it doesn't do the greatest job of explaining its systems. You sort of just have to figure it out for yourself. It's never frustrating, but it could certainly be more clear.
Balthazar's Dream may be a pretty basic game, but it's a fun and surprisingly uplifting experience well-worth the low price of admission. The core gameplay is tight and effective, whilst the game's premise is surprisingly heart-wrenching and its soundtrack quite gorgeous. If you love dogs or just a pleasant time, you should check out this sweet and endearing game.
TechRaptor covered Balthazars Dream on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.