Niko: Through the Dream Review

Dreams, some say, are our suppresed emotions and anxieties that our subconscious mind tries to communicate to us when we are asleep. These emotions manifest themselves in many forms, such as people, monsters or events, both sad and happy. In “Niko: Through the Dream” we explore exactly these concepts, through a game gorgeously crafted by Studio Paint.

 

Story

Our story begins in the dream of a girl named Niko, which fell asleep in a forest while adventuring, and some sketchy creatures took the chance to invade her mind. The story is divided into chapters, all of which are both thematically and gameplay-wise quite disparate. Each chapter unfolds on a different island and deals with an event that took place during Niko’s lifetime.

Moving through the chapters, we see a number of issues arise, which hurt our heroine in the past. Such issues include death and loss (most likely of a parental figure), the issues of industrialization and habitat loss and the fear of drowning, the fear of the unknown and the fear of the dark and the monsters that hide in the shadows. Most of us have already dealt with these issues or we will probably have to face in the future and I believe many players will easily find themselves in the main character’s shoes, at least, I know I did.

As the story progresses we notice a transition from more lighthearted and relaxing themes, to a darker and much more depressing side of the dream. The transition begins when the dream reaches its most beautiful state and due a tragic event, all the colors fade to black. Then, “The Nightmare” begins. A small note: this whole Dream-Nightmare situation reminded me vividly of the Emerald Dream and the Emerald Nightmare from World of Warcraft, due to the similarity of colors and the aesthetics. But hey, this could probably be just me seeing connections everywhere, like I usually do…

Along with the transition of aesthetics and environments, the soundtrack also takes a darker turn and not only complements, but intensifies even more the melancholic and stressful feelings that the themes invoke in the player. Details like these are what sets apart a game in my eyes, when the player is fully immersed in the story and feels what the character would be feeling at any given moment.  

Gameplay

Niko is a third person action-platformer-puzzle game with puzzle being its most distinguishing characteristic of the three. Each dream-chapter features different mechanics and different puzzles, making for a very varied gameplay experience. Puzzles range from simple color and shape matching, controlling the seasons in order to freeze water, trying to memorize and transcribe a simple melody, to climbing voxel based towers. Niko is truly one of the most varied games in terms of mechanics I have ever experienced. You can swim, you can fly, you can use telepathy… just like in a dream. In terms of difficulty, however, I believe the game falls to the easier side, with the harder parts being puzzles that required memorizing and repetition. This is not something that I totally disliked (I don’t like hard games anyway), and I believe it allows for everyone to complete the puzzles easily enough so that they can experience the whole story.

Of course, there are hidden items waiting to be found, teddy bears and drawings in particular. I managed to collect a few, but I am in no means a big fan of finding out every little detail, I just like experiencing the main game.

The game is minimalistic in its every aspect and that is no different in the controls, with its controls featuring walking, jumping and a button for interacting with everything. I hardly ever noticed any bugs, like glitching through walls or event triggered mechanics not working and since this was a revisit to the game, following my first review for it in 2016 for a different site, I can surely say that the game is 99% bug-free.

Graphics and Soundtrack

As stated above, Niko is a truly gorgeous game. Utilizing the features of the Unreal Engine very well, the team of Studio Paint has managed to create a world that is minimal, very visually diverse and appealing. The color palette is mostly white (or black in the later chapters) with a small touch of color in specific moments and in puzzles, where it makes sense.

The artstyle is almost low-poly (my favourite art style, as if I didn’t love the game enough already!), with clean and defined lines and curves which create elegant shapes and structures, such as the windmills and the asian buildings which are found mainly in the earlier chapters.

As a more personal observation, I feel like the simplicity of the aesthetics is deliberate in the sense that the world we are seeing is actually a dream world and not a complete, real world, more like an abstract representation of Niko’s life and its important events.

What is more, many of the earlier chapters feature sceneries great for taking screenshots of. I took a decent amount of screenshots, some of which you can see on this article and the rest can be found through this link to my imgur gallery! (Gotta love these asian buildings!)

All these environments are great looking and truly manage to immerse you in the world, but what “seals the deal” for me is, of course, the soundtrack. I almost never get emotional in games, but Niko has managed to make me emotional quite a few times and I strongly believe that the game’s music played the greatest role in it. Unlike other games where music is there just to fill the awkward silence or provide some ambiance, in this game it actually sets the mood and drives the players emotions. The tracks that especially captivated me were “Zen Gardens”, “An enclosed past” and “Oneironaut” (which consist of the words oneiro(όνειρο)\dream and naut(ναύτης)/sailor in Greek. An oneironaut is a person who consciously travels through their dreams, a lucid dreamer. You can listen to the whole soundtrack on YouTube.

What I felt

Having all that said, story, gameplay, technical details etc, I think it is time to talk about what this game has made me feel. Most of the time I found myself being laid back and breezing through the puzzles, but there were moments which made me look within or stressed me. One of the concepts that has touched me the most was the issue of death and the loss of someone, situations I have experienced several times in the recent years. There were moments that really made me reflect upon life, death and how little we appreciate what we have, before we lose it in a moment’s notice. And talking about sudden changes, this game is all about sudden changes. No chapter is similar to the others and changes in aesthetics happen very quickly. I missed greatly the beautiful and dreamy landscapes as soon as I progressed to the more melancholic chapters. However, I liked a lot the portal-esque chapter with the more traditional puzzle challenges.

You can find “Niko: Through the Dream” on Steam for 8,99€ or for 11,99€ which includes the digital OST.


Verdict

Niko: Through the Dream is more than a puzzle-platformer game. To me, it was experiencing a story hidden behind symbols and little details. It was a story that made me look within myself. After adding to this great mix its very well polished environments and exceptional soundtrack, I believe Niko has left me a lasting impact even from the first time I played it in 2016 and I can safely claim that it is one of the finest games I have ever had the luck of discovering and playing. I highly recommend Niko: Through the Dream to everyone, who likes dreaming a little, and wants to experience a game that hides a moving story beneath its surface.


Polished environments

Exceptional soundtrack

Moving story, told through symbols and little details

I would like a little more challenge at times.

Score : 9.8/10

~Dimitris “Onel” Zarachanis

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