Review: Dream Trigger 3D

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Between Dream Trigger 3D and Ubisoft’s euphoric Child of Eden, I am totally blissed out on trippy arcade shooters at the moment. A review for the latter is in the pipeline, but right now I would like to take a moment to tell you about the former, a remarkable little Nintendo 3DS sleeper from D3Publisher and developer Art Co.

At first blush, Dream Trigger 3D seems to be a typical bullet hell shmup, and to an extent that is true. You move an avatar around on the top screen, dodge swarms of bullets, and shoot those responsible for spraying shots your way, all with two simple goals: to survive until the level is over, and to pile up a high score to be proud of. This is nothing new.

Yet in spite of its familiar setup, Dream Trigger 3D is like no other game I’ve played before. In that regard, it stirs up similar emotions to when Big Bang Mini first came into my life. That game is marvelous, so go buy it too if you never did before — you can play it on your 3DS, remember.

The game throws a monkey wrench into the system with its sonar detection mechanic. On the top screen, you guide your avatar / targeting reticule around the screen with the circle pad and zap enemies that fly across in patterns by holding down either of the shoulder buttons. But the twist is that you first have to detect your targets on the bottom screen before they become visible on the top screen. This involves dropping sonar pings with stylus taps and drags on the bottom screen, and any enemy within range of a sonar ripple, which detonate when the rhythm bar swipes across them in sync with the background music, then appears for you to blast away.

When you first start playing, you will probably be frustrated and confused, because the initial learning curve is pretty severe. At first, the controls do feel slightly awkward and unnatural, and there is generally so much chaos taking place on the top screen — between the psychedelic visualizer backgrounds, the darting enemies, the splash of tiny bullets, and the item pick-ups that steadily float by to give you bonus points, refill your health or give you limited-time invincibility or unlimited shooting energy — that it is easy to lose track of what’s going on, and die a miserable death as a result.

But once you get your bearings straight and train yourself to accurately place sonar pings without having to stop to constantly look at the bottom screen, the game reveals itself to be an intelligently designed shoot-‘em-up with an addictive hook and a fair level of challenge.

While the mechanics of it all are pretty straightforward once you know what you’re doing, there is more strategy involved beyond aiming and shooting. There are important tricks to master if you want to score big, such as activating your laser to enter a state of invincibility and avoid taking a hit, planning sonar ping drops in sync with the passing rhythm bar, and properly managing your energy bar to avoid running out of juice when you need it most. You see, you can’t simply spam your laser and sonar nonstop (well, you can, but you probably won’t get very far or bank a very high score). Your energy and sonar pings are limited, with energy only refilling when you ping an enemy, and pings only regenerating when the rhythm bar goes by.

That being said, I did get the sense that some potential was left untapped. While the energetic electronica remixes of classical music compositions from legendary composers like Mozart, Chopin and Bach do make for inspiring background tunes, and the sound effects that chime as you ping and blast away do attempt to provide the player with the sensation of remixing the music on the fly based on their actions, in reality the link between the gameplay and the music is superficial.

I also felt that the developers missed the boat as far as offering more diversity in enemy attack patterns and boss encounters – the bosses in specific present little variation, and after a while just blur together. The lack of online integration is a disappointment as well. While I’m none too surprised or overly miffed about the two-player versus mode being local wireless only, I was let down by not at least having online leaderboards to post high scores to. Something else that didn’t make it into the game but I would love to see if a sequel gets the green light, is some form of level editor for players to be able to create and share customized dreamscapes online, maybe even with a companion music mixer.

Graphically, the game isn’t hurting for variation whatsoever. You’ll find yourself shooting through constellation-filled skies with rolling clouds and shooting stars, forests bursting with lush vegetation and colorful blossoms, neon dreamscapes, and vector-based, geometrical landscapes similar in style to a game like Rez, and the enemies, particle effects, and your avatar always change to match the scenery. Simply put, the game looks spectacular in motion – sometimes too busy for its own good, but always visually stimulating.

What’s more, this is the first and only 3DS game that I’ve played where I feel like I am missing something if I play without the 3D slider jacked to the max – and I actually don’t get a headache when doing so! Turning the 3D on gives you that perfect ‘tunnel vision’ effect that not only enhances the aesthetic performance, but also enhances your depth perception so you can see what’s happening with greater clarity.

All factors considered, Dream Trigger 3D certainly is a one-note shmup orchestra, but the one note that it plays sure makes beautiful gaming music. And with over 100 achievement-style challenges to shoot for, and more than 50 different stages to unlock in the structured world play mode and then replay for fun in time attack, free play and versus modes, there is ample content here to make it worth the while for arcade shooter fans and anyone craving something fresh and unique to play on their 3DS.

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Pros:
+ Unique and addictive shmup gameplay
+ Sonar ping mechanic refreshes arcade shooter convention with new play strategies
+ Flashy graphics that really pop with the 3D slider turned on
+ Energetic soundtrack effectively compliments the gameplay and visuals
+ Good selection of stages and modes

Cons:
– Steep learning curve may scare off novices
– Could have done more to integrate the music with the gameplay
– Lacks online connectivity for multiplayer and leaderboards
– Enemy and boss variation is a bit thin

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Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: D3Publisher
Developer: Art Co.
Release Date: 5/10/2011
Genre: Arcade Shooter
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-2 (local multiplayer only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!