Perched on the edge of a cliff, you don’t know what’s ahead of you, but with a leap you spread your wings, embarking on a journey.
The destination isn’t important, the joy of Dune Sea is in the journey. The process. Watching the landscape go by, making your way through the air, finding and coaxing friends to join your ramshackle flock, avoiding obstacles, learning how to soar with acrobatic grace.
Dune Sea is a side-scrolling adventure game, if adventure meant a meditative zen-like experience with a little bit of a challenge. With a simple, low-poly art style, soothing music, and a steady pace, Dune Sea is exactly what I needed to play, when everything was too overwhelming, too noisy, or just took too much energy.
Gameplay is soothing, if that wasn’t clear already. It introduces controls simply and slowly. First, let’s figure out how to hop off the cliff and spread your wings. Next, figure out how to fly quickly, change directions, and how and where to land for a rest. A some of the controls are explained to you, but a lot you are left to figure out. You’ll pick up some little collectables and learn that it’ll give you a bit more stamina. You’ll also learn what happens when you do run out of stamina.
A lot of it is very straightforward, and what you’d expect from a game like this. But you have a few interesting tricks to learn. If you encounter a flock of birds, honk at them! One of them may decide to tag along for a little while. And with enough bird friends, you’ll be able to unlock new and interesting pathways, and move past difficult obstacles. Is it necessary? Not really! But who doesn’t want a ragtag flock who can help you blast rocks?
Sometimes, the lack of explanation can be frustrating. I had quite a lot of trouble at the very first launch, where I was told to press two buttons, but I didn’t really know how to, or how long, or in what order.
I’m not afraid to admit I crashed off that cliff at least half a dozen times. But once the mechanics of flight clicked, it clicked, and the rest just fell into place. It helps that it is a forgiving game, with plenty of checkpoints. You don’t get punished harshly for a mis-timed dive. Instead the game goes ‘hey, let’s give that another go’. So you spend less time struggling, and more time just enjoying the journey.
In addition, there is a Zen Mode, where you don’t even have to worry about obstacles or crashing. You can choose to only have to fly.
Like the simple art style, and soothing gameplay, the music just ties it all together. You don’t HAVE to listen to the music, but I think you need to. It’s so gentle, melodic, easy to allow into the background of your flight. It really ties it together, giving pace to your experience. Gentle guitar tones, violins in the background, an echo of the melody rings in the background. It feels open, and warm. I wouldn’t fall asleep to it, but I found it relaxing. I had a better meditation experience playing this game, than I did in my last yoga class. Everything just compliments each other so well, woven into one experience.
There’s no rush, no glaring need to keep flying, no overwhelming drive to DO things. It just lets you fly.
What is Dune Sea? It is a journey, an experience, that serves no other purpose than to just let you experience it. Your destination doesn’t matter. Your goals can be to just stay off the ground. You can build a giant mega-flock, or you can just see where the game takes you, for as long as you want. It’s not exciting, it’s not busy, it’s sort of boring. But in the way that paddling down a quiet river in a canoe, and you look up at the sky and watch the clouds drift by is boring. In the way that sitting by a stream, and tossing sticks into it and mentally betting on which stick will reach the big rock first is boring. In the way that sitting on the train and watching the landscape change and the buildings go by is boring.
It just felt like, for a few minutes at a time, I could just breath. And fly.
That is Dune sea.
Reviewed by Zahra Pending @Degari_rose on 2nd of December 2020