Like a message in a bottle, The Sailor’s Dream is part love letter, part ghost story. It’s the latest game from Swedish indie game makers Simogo, and (for now) it’s available only for iOS. The mobile platform works well for this ethereal exploration game. It’s like a tiny ocean you can carry in your pocket.
The Sailor’s Dream sets you in a beautiful and peaceful ocean, surrounded by six small islands. You can explore each island in whatever order you like, scrolling through rooms and discovering items that each reveal a tiny piece of a larger story. Some rooms contain mysterious shapes that make amazing sounds when tapped, spun, stretched, or dragged.
The Sailor’s Dream is not really about solving puzzles, and it’s certainly not about defeating bad guys. More than anything else, it reminded me of an interactive poem. It’s brief and sweet and melancholy. And it has some great sounds. Seriously, do not play this game with your sound off. If possible, wear headphones.
The interactions between the player and the game are light and seamless and work perfectly with the story. To prevent you from rushing through the admittedly small amount of content, the game includes special events that happen only at certain times and on certain days. This is a really cool way to force the player to slow down and to really look at and think about what they’re doing in the game.
The Sailor’s Dream tells the tale of a man, a woman, and a young girl who lived by the sea. The man was a sailor, and he would have to leave for long stretches of time. The story is somewhat dark; however, the dark parts of the game are never shown explicitly. They are told, either by written or spoken word. The game is also out of chronological order, which makes the details dreamlike and uncertain. So, while the full weight of the story may be lost on a young audience, there is nothing particularly inappropriate for kids. To the contrary, I know that the longing and sadness felt by the characters would have been extremely appealing to me at a young age. This is a game I would have obsessed over as a preteen.
There are, however, a few drawbacks to this vague style of storytelling. Because none of the characters have names, the narrator uses only pronouns, and I would not always be sure if I was reading about the woman or about the girl. Further, the creators relied on the empty space between the words to provide the story with emotional depth. This is a good way to avoid exposition dumps, but it also felt like lazy writing. It didn’t help that the story was often melodramatic (a problem shared by Simogo’s horror game Year Walk).
Still, The Sailor’s Dream attempts to do something that is relatively unheard of in gaming: it moves forward with only the strength of the player’s curiosity, and it easily manages to hold onto that curiosity for long enough to get you to the end. And the melodrama wouldn’t have bothered me at all had I been playing the game as a teenager.
Heads up, The Sailor’s Dream has two endings. Stick around for both of them.
The Sailor’s Dream is a small and elegant world that I can hold in my pocket. Once again, Simogo has created a game that is fully aware of itself and of its limitations. Despite some occasionally melodramatic writing, The Sailor’s Dream managed to engage me completely from start to finish. For just $3.99, I can’t think of a single reason not to check it out.