Review: The Sailor's Dream

By Owen Faraday 26 Dec 2014 0
Gentrification comes to Barad-dûr. Gentrification comes to Barad-dûr.

Before I even get to The Sailor's Dream, let's take a moment to recap just how unabashedly biased I am towards Simogo. If you called 2013 "The Year of Simogo", it would require some weapons-grade pedantry to disagree with you: I gave a fairly gushing review to Device 6, then gave it a year-end award (plus another award to Year Walk), and then burbled on for 500 words about how the Swedish creators of all of the aforementioned were some of the most important developers in gaming. Pocket Tactics had turned into Tiger Beat circa 1987 and Simogo our own Corey Haim.

In 2013 Simogo had set themselves apart as the makers of thought-provoking, genre-immolating games that leaned on the boundaries of what the medium can do. In 2014, Simogo have released just one mobile game: The Sailor's Dream, a creation that is thought-provoking only insofar as it will provoke thoughts about why exactly you're playing with this and not one of Simogo's much better games from last year.

Did you guess that the glowing lampshades are musical? They're musical. Did you guess that the glowing lampshades are musical? They're musical.

The Sailor's Dream is a largely non-interactive musical snowglobe that lets you poke around a very pretty (and very tiny) little nautical world for no apparent purpose whatsoever. It is so heavy on atmosphere that a balloon would sink in it, but that's really all there is. Tap here and get a little musical toy. Tap there and a get a bit of undercooked prose. No puzzles. No goals. It's about as much of a game as an advent calendar is, but at least that would give you some chocolate.

When you've tapped enough of the (very lovely) hand-painted tchotchkes, a story of sorts starts to emerge, told torturously slowly through unconnected bits of text and some (very lovely) folk songs. These individual components of The Sailor's Dream are (like everything Simogo creates) nothing less than gorgeous. The finely detailed art evokes a ceramic miniature town and the rootsy music is fronted by a lady with a lovely girlish voice not unlike There's lots of declarative present tense, Owen captions. There's lots of declarative present tense, Owen captions.[/caption]

Don't think for a second that non-interactiveness and spareness of prose are always bad. Simogo's own Device 6 was very clever in using linearity to explore player agency in games. A Dark Room used some very economical writing to give moral shading to your gameplay decisions. But The Sailor's Dream never gives you lets you be anything more than a passive observer. A more engaging experience with similar attributes would make for an introspective, meditative experience like Out There. The Sailor's Dream feels like leafing through a glossy magazine in a language you don't read: lovely enough but decidedly un-illuminating.

Simogo are capable of making extraordinary things, but this isn't one of them. The name "The Sailor's Dream", it turns out, is apt. Like a dream, this an experience you'll forget all about soon after leaving it.

The Sailor's Dream was playing on an iPad Air for this review.

Review: The Sailor's Dream

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