Developer: Dreamz Studio
Publisher: Dreamz Studio
Played on: PC
Release Date: March 22, 2018
Played with: Xbox 360 Controller
Paid: $0 (Key provided for review)
Imagine if Nintendo released a compilation of the best user-created levels from Super Mario Maker as a standalone package; that’s basically Crazy Dreamz: Best Of, except it replaces all the Mario assets with magical cats and other fantasy-themed critters. What’s most interesting is the monetization model: 50% of the profits go to the creators whose levels made it into the game. Not only that, but each level spotlights its creator at the start and end, giving players the option to send monetary tips to their favourite builders. It’s a rather heartwarming collaboration between developers and players, and one which I’d love to see more games explore. However, can the creativity of an entire fanbase produce an inspired, diverse set of game levels to experience?
Well, yes and no. In my time with the game, there was certainly some great variety on display. Some levels were straightforward platforming challenges, while others attempted to tell miniature stories, complete with a set of objectives to work through. Still others acted as puzzle rooms, and one was (of course), a partial recreation of Super Mario Bros.‘ iconic World 1-1. Levels are collected into worlds, and after beating any five, you can take on the world’s boss in a fight created by the game’s developers. With 100 levels available, there’s a lot to keep you busy for quite a while.
If variety is the spice of life, though, Crazy Dreamz: Best Of is an overzealous chef. While other games sprinkle little bits here and there to add some flair to the action, Best Of rips the lid off the shaker, upends it over the roast, starts frantically massaging it in…you get the idea.
Off-the-rails metaphor aside, the biggest problem with Best Of is that it lacks consistency. As someone who never played Crazy Dreamz: MagiCats Edition – the title whose level creator was used for the maps in Best Of – I wasn’t exactly in the greatest position to immediately pick up the game’s mechanics. Even if I had played it, though, I don’t think it would have mattered, as every level has the potential to introduce an entirely new set of rules. Enemies that previously died in one hit may suddenly take five, or even be invincible. There’s no real sense of mechanical build-up, as some levels will arbitrarily throw in new abilities (for instance, a gravity-switching power) in situations that clearly aren’t designed for first-time players.
While dealing with this, you’re also completely at the mercy of a particular level designer’s decisions when it comes to checkpoints. Now, I’m fine with challenging platformers, or even with having to restart an entire level upon death. What’s frustrating is to die because of some mechanic that was thrown in my face with no explanation, only to have to restart and continue playing through the same stretch of game until I figure it out. Thankfully, this wasn’t a frequent problem for me, but I can see other players running into far greater difficulties.
This isn’t helped by the fact that many of the levels are clearly pushing the game’s engine to its limits. Upon dying, everything in the map resets, even if you’re respawning at a checkpoint. This includes timed dialogue boxes providing exposition, meaning you’ll frequently end up halfway through the level while still dealing with pop-ups from the start. There are also several levels that just feel poorly designed, whether it’s due to puzzles that require little more than guesswork, or platforming sections that can be completely circumvented by abusing the game’s physics.
Worst of all, though, the controls are far too imprecise for some of the challenges you’ll face. For starters, don’t even bother with a mouse and keyboard; a controller feels like a requirement here. Even then, you’ll find yourself frequently overshooting narrow platforms, or madly flailing around in the air to stick a tough landing.
The clunky controls are honestly a bit baffling to me, considering that nearly everything else made by the original dev team feels incredibly polished. Boss fights are entertaining, even if they frequently boil down to “dodge an attack, mash the attack button, and repeat”, and the visuals are absolutely wonderful. The mixture of 3D cel-shaded models and hand-drawn assets is executed flawlessly, and nowhere is this more apparent than with the player character’s smooth and expressive animations.
As a curated pile of Crazy Dreamz levels, Best Of is decent. However, while I understand the desire of the developers to provide their dedicated fans with some financial compensation for the use of their levels, paying the inflated price tag of $11.49 CDN (up from the free-to-play MagiCats Edition) simply to have the wheat separated from the chaff feels excessive. Plus, when most of that wheat is wallowing firmly in the valley of mediocrity, well, you’re probably better off just harvesting your own.