“Dyson Sphere” Review
This is a game I thought all indie games would be like: crudely – made and created by the seat of your pants, with a story that nobody cares about and with game mechanics that are too wacky for the mainstream. You see a game like Cave Story and think, “wow, I can do that”. Perhaps you can. But Cave Story wasn’t a success because it was an indie game: it was a success because it was free for years before being released on WiiWare and the DSi; the Shantae model of playing the long game.
This game isn’t trying to emulate Cave Story, no. Momodora did that, and the results were not good. It instead seems to be an amalgamation of what the developer believes an indie game to be: scritchy – scratchy art style with a Big Selling Point made in a discount freeware engine in about two months. Although Dyson Sphere, which is what we’re reviewing if you can’t read the article title, looks like it was made in Game Maker, it is actually made in Unity. Is that why the game is 87 megabytes? Or am I arrogant for thinking I could make it in five?
It does not matter what engine a game is made in nowadays, because all you developers don’t care about the user and so make proprietary games with proprietary garbage. As far as we’re eating garbage, are we entitled to complain about the quality of the garbage? What I know is that Game Maker has made such classics as Hotline Miami, Spelunky, the Game Of All Time “Tales of Game's Presents Chef Boyardee's Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden, Chapter 1 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa”, and also Undertale because of course it is. Unity is also bringing its own top – tier entertainment, with classics such as Slender, Angry Birds 2, Gone Home, Yandere Simulator, and Yooka – Laylee. Mmm – hmm. And also Superhot and Kerbal Space Program, if you’re feeling particularly pretentious and/or autistic.
The Sphere is Here
You play as an anime girl with a pair of big knockers and a fashion sense ill – suited to the infinitely cold void that is space. Along the way you meet Shady Jim in a snuggie, and his ten friends with the exact same spritework. I don’t know the plot; the dialogue is not interesting or engaging, goes on too long, with text boxes that are slooooooow. I stopped reading them. If somebody wants my critic pass, you’ll get it down the barrel of my gun. I am behaving as any reasonable audience member would behave, and being one such audience member, I have no qualms about avoiding content that is just plain boring.
So Big Knockers, real name Kloe, has to do something something something save the town and so on. Really it’s just a foil to go through the levels, and let me tell you, the movement speed is not messing around in this game. You hold right for a second and you go faster than Sonic. You jump, and gravity throws itself at you. It’s nice to see a game actually pick up the pace, considering 90% of games have movement speed that is too hecking slow. Do you think you’re compensating a little? This isn’t Quake – tier gameplay.
About the gameplay: it’s a series of puzzle – platformers, because this is an Indie game and this is what they do. I understand the model is attractive to new developers, but riddle me this: would you rather be like every other 2D platforming game out there, or would you rather be like Hotline Miami? I’m not saying bring in guts and gore, I’m suggesting you elevate your game to a level so out – of – this – world that nobody can copy it. So what game is there? You have gravity mechanics and fans and moving platformers — alright, I get it. I’ve played Flash games before, I know what I’m doing.
Assets… In Space!
I will praise the art style, though. It’s like seeing a man in a seersucker suit: a bit tacky, but it’s different, so he must be different. The monochrome combination of scratchy spritework and painted – over models have a desolate charm to it that you can only find in amateur productions. The typical career of an artist goes from cutely quaint (the DeviantART days), to boringly average (the Tumblr days), to mind – sucking extraordinary (where you end up on 10kB, at least when I’m not taking the piss). So congratulations, Aspaklaria… what? Aspaklaria Studios? Is that a real thing? Anyway, congratulations on being just decent enough to be cute. May the rest of your artistic career be anything other than generic.
About art: it is commonly known that creating assets for a game is the worst part about its development. It sucks up too much time and creates an unfair impression of a game before it is even made. It puts an undue burden on game designers with excellent development skills but no artistic talent. They create the brand for a game more than the gameplay ever does, and forces a team to think about marketing over what they want to game to be. It demands every development team become large enough to be able to create music, sound effects, characters, sprites, and levels, thinking about their æsthetics and visual design well in advance before such is ever needed in a visual framework. For developers who don’t know that art should be the last thing considered when creating a video game, as a game is only as good as the skeleton it hangs off, it has the potential to destroy whole workflows and derail the intent of the creation of a game from creating an emotional experience, to creating an experience that one is forced to look at.
It is in the nature of games to do this, and it is the reason we get beautiful games such as Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and you can insert your own games. Game artists are so in – demand that there is a perennial shortage of them, they demand payment outside the budget of indie developers (which is usually zero), and they often dictate the entire look and feel of the game due to needing to create every art asset for a game, including user interfaces, and needing the material design skills to be able to do such without derailing the entire game.
Communication, too, is Hell, especially online. The artist is always going to lag behind the designer’s demand for rough sketches, the designer is forced to ask the artist to make changes against their will, and they are always in a mutually sadistic relationship. The artist can abuse their power to make the game look however they want, and if the designer objects, the artist can walk. But if the designer does not object, their game will suffer, because a skilled designer knows more about psychology and player motivations more than an artist realises. It requires a constant back – and – forth of either unhappy compromises, or one person being brilliant enough to take charge and having the other have total faith in their ability. Unfortunately, brilliant leaders are at an all – time low… perhaps the former reason is why we have so many mediocre games.
Which brings us back to Dyson Sphere. Sorry, boys. I enjoyed playing through the first few levels, even barring the looping music, due to its fast pace carrying most of the uninspired mechanics. I quit on the level where I was expected to drop down through three high – gravity squares while still maintaining my low – gravity status, and I failed a dozen times, each time making me wait fifteen seconds for a platform to slowly come down. And the platform was so high up, I missed jumping on it half the time. Easy fix: use a fan! And if you can’t change the wind length, add two fans and make it so you can float through one of them. Intuitive design isn’t hard; it’s just playing through your levels a bunch of times and changing things to make them less unpleasant to play.
But it wasn’t awful, I would say. Being a pragmatist, I am forced to say it is not one of the worst games I have played from Itch, as the worst games are those that you know are bad from the outset and are forced to wonder why somebody made it. Should this game become worthy of such, I would like a ”post – mortem“, to use the industry’s buzzwords, and understand why the developers created it in the way that they did. Inexperience? As all amateur thrill wanes, so do their good ideas… one must never lose these ideas, or else they will never be masters.