Video games don’t have to be all about difficulty. Sometimes, they can be about relaxation and exploration. When I got a chance to play Dune Sea on Nintendo Switch, and I saw it had a zen mode, I thought it could be a meditative experience. Instead, I was met with a mess of a game that would be disappointing even if I downloaded it as a free mobile game.
Dune Sea is a side-scrolling adventure game where you play as a lone goose flying through various environments. There are different obstacles to bypass—like floating rocks, and inexplicable tentacle monsters. You can dive and dash to speed past obstacles. There are items to pick up that raise your stamina level—once your stamina drains, you plummet to the ground. You can further refill it by landing, especially in special designated landing zones, lest you be attacked by a predator on the ground. Hitting the ground or an obstacle instantly kills you, and sets you back to your checkpoint—unless you’re playing in zen mode, and then a shield pops up around you, and you can continue flying forward.
On the surface, none of what I described isn’t necessarily bad. There’s not much to it, sure, but if flying is fun and satisfying it can deliver on a good experience. It’s not fun. Flying feels like flappy bird, without the flap. You mostly fly to the right, and occasionally honk at other birds. There are sometimes rings to fly through, some of which are gated by the number of companions you have. Obstacles in Dune Sea are annoying, and seemed timed almost to trip you up more than challenge you. Failure is easy, but I found myself failing more often than not because I was daydreaming about something I’d rather be doing instead of playing this game.
There is a Zen mode in Dune Sea. This mode essentially makes it so you can’t fail, and is supposed to allow you to focus on the backgrounds, and immerse yourself in its environment. The only problem is, it has the same terrible flight mechanics—and when you hit an object, instead of instant failure, a forcefield surrounds your goose and you bounce off of that object like you’re a ball. But then you start flying forward again, sometimes getting you stuck in terrain—at which point, the forcefield ball is dragged backwards right through that terrain until you’re clear to fly again. It’s not very Zen, and is almost just as frustrating as the non-Zen version.
Dune Sea is not a good game. It fails at almost every aspect of what would make a game fun. It does have some interesting looking environments, but only just. It’s really not worth your time or money. There are some good games out there that invoke a sense of wonder or even provide a Zen-like meditative experience—but Dune Sea is just far too frustrating to achieve that.
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