Looking out of the window of an abandoned farmhouse in rural Missori, it's easy to imagine young cartoonist Carson Hughs doing the same, wondering why society and his family can't accept that his best friend is a young black girl.
Speedbump Studios' Dream Revenant was not at all what I expected. Powered by the Unreal Engine, I figured I was in for a very pretty iPad game with relatively little substance — a graphical showcase with minimal heart. I couldn't have been more wrong.
The game opens on a dying Carson Hughs, rising from his hospital bed and entering a dreamscape crafted from his memories. The treehouse he and his friend Willa built to hide from the local bullies. The circus ride where Carson and Willa first admit their feelings. The old farmhouse where Carson's mother cruelly warns him away from his childhood friend.
Carson, an aspiring cartoonist, finds inspiration in his young love, creating a comic strip called Li'l Willa, based on their adventures. His memories are punctuated by these strips, his life's journey defined by them, accompanied by the haunting strains of Willa's fiddle.
Lush music by composer Isaias Garcia follows the player on their journey, shaping the path of Carson's life. Idyllic youth mingles with undertones of dread and despair, darkness encroaching on his happy memories.
The story, music and visuals come together to create a supremely satisfying sadness, easily compensating for the lack of gameplay polish. A first-person, touch-controlled adventure, the controls don't always allow for smooth movement, and getting hung up on the scenery is a regular occurrence. More concerned with telling a tale than challenge, this is a simple "find the right tool to advance to the next area" sort of adventure, with a delightful pinch of comic book inspired magic.
In Carson Hughs' dying mind, he escapes into his art, memories written over by the light-hearted cartoons his child self began drawing to escape the dark reality of racial tension in 1960s rural Missouri. Before he can finally rest, he must strip away his self-imposed illusions and face the dark and painful truth.
I opened Dream Revenant late last night on a whim. An hour and a half later I set it down, tears running down my cheeks. It's a powerfully moving experience, perhaps the most powerful I've experienced on the iPad to date.
- Genre: Adventure
- Developer: Speedbump Studios
- Platform: iOS
- Price: $1.99 (on sale from $3.99)