Release Date: April 29, 2021
Rating: E 10+
Platform: Switch, Windows
A game key for Reknum Cheri Dreamland was provided by Nape Games.
I've looked at the original Reknum game a few times, but never got around to trying it out. When I first saw the 1930s styled cartoony key art for the sequel, Reknum Cheri Dreamland, I was interested immediately. It turns out that aesthetic doesn't necessarily fit the whole game through. Still, this is a fun little 2D platformer with a few weird issues.
All About the Aesthetic
It's impossible not to talk about the art style in this game. The retro-cartoon designs on the key art, menus, and cinematics between levels are absolutely adorable. Once you actually get into a level, though, most of that charm seeps away. The actual game utilizes pixel art that doesn't really call back to the cartoon style, except that it's still black and white. The pixel art looks nice but it doesn't feel connected to the key art.
Looking at pictures of the original Reknum game, it seems like the in-game art is basically the same, just desaturated. This is a bit of a bummer because the vibrant colors of the original game actually look pretty great. On the other hand, I loved playing Super Mario Land on the original GameBoy, and the monochrome color scheme here reminded me of that.
The one other aesthetic piece that does carry through really well is the music. The game is full of rag-tag tunes that are cheery and delightful. Playing this game sounds like wandering down Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland. The music doesn't necessarily pair with the pixel art super well, but it does help bridge the two art styles.
The Gameplay Loop
The story in this game is simple, but gets you right in to the action. A Witch has banished you to a dream realm, and you have to battle your way through it to escape back to reality. Reknum Cheri Dreamland plays a lot like a lot of other 2D action platformers. You start the game with a sword and the ability to dash, jump, double jump, and wall jump. Over the course of the game, you navigate through several different environments. Each level is filled with enemies, traps, and keys that are used to make your way forward.
There are also treasure chests scattered throughout the levels. When you bash them, they burst open and shower you with treasure. As you collect that treasure, an “MP” score in the corner of the screen goes up. That score resets when you die and disappears at the end of the level, so I'm not really sure what it's for. After two levels I basically stopped bothering to open the chests. The fact that it disappeared so frequently made it less confusing than what happened with the collectibles at the end of Moon Raider, at least.
As you unlock new levels you also get health upgrades and unlock new weapons. By the end of the game you've got a bow that can break specific walls, a trident to stab upward, and a bomb. It's nice to get new abilities as you go, but I never really found much use for the trident or the bomb.
The gameplay all feels pretty smooth. The platforming can get a bit chaotic, but usually in a way that manages to be fun rather than frustrating. Weirdly, the moving elements in levels don't seem to stay totally in sync when you die, so on different attempts at some moving platform challenges the timing was slightly different, but mostly that made me have to focus rather than just memorize a beat.
In Game Issues
There are a few issues that I had with the actual gameplay in Reknum Cheri Dreamland. While the music is great, I have one complaint about the sound design. This probably sounds like a minor thing, but it really bothered me: there is no sound effect for jumping or dashing. Swinging your sword, wall jumping, and getting hit all have an audio cue, but jumping and dashing are both silent. Once I noticed it I couldn't stop noticing it, and it just weirded me out. There's even a little voice clip of Cheri saying “Great!” that plays randomly when you get chests, but no “boing!” when you jump or “che-che-che-che-che” when you dash. Weird!
My other problem is specifically with the final boss of the game. Skip this paragraph if you don't want to know how that unfolds. Most of the battles you get into are pretty straightforward and are easy to beat by paying attention to the enemies' movement and spamming your attacks. At the very end of the game, you battle the Witch, who summons the other bigger enemies you've fought throughout the game. This is all well and good, and actually pretty fun, until the Witch uses an ability that is hard to read, and kills you in a single hit regardless of your health. Because I generally used the sword I kept getting killed by this attack without even being able to see what was happening. Once I saw it, I switched to using the bow and finished the fight and the game. The battle was still fun overall, but that didn't make for a super satisfying conclusion.
There are some other quirks to this game that are a lot more problematic. For one, the frame rate stuttered on the main menu, where all that was on screen was the cartoony drawing of the main character. This stuttering continued on almost every single one of the short cutscenes that play between levels. I didn't have issues with it while actually playing, but it really got in the way of enjoying the cartoony scenes.
I also came across two weird controller issues, which didn't stop me from playing but were mildly inconvenient. First off, you can't play this game properly use the D-Pad. You can move left and right with it just fine, but the up and down arrows don't seem to do anything, which means you can't aim your bow around you at all. I didn't even realize this was an issue at first, because it only becomes apparent when you unlock the bow. The other issue is that this game doesn't switch between docked and handheld properly. The game doesn't seem to know how to switch which controller to accept input from, so every time I changed where I was playing I had to restart the game, losing whatever progress I'd made on the current level.
Reknum Cheri Dreamland isn't a perfect game. It's fairly short, it's got a visual style that is a little incoherent from cutscenes to gameplay, and a few quirks and issues that can be a bit annoying. None of the issues I came across were game-breaking, and the platforming was quick and fun. I ended up playing through the whole game and mostly enjoyed what it had to offer.
This is by no means the best 2D action platformer around, but it's still an enjoyable game.
Geek to Geek Rating: 3 out of 5