Game Review: Steven Universe: Dreamland Arcade

This collection of minigames based on the Cartoon Network staple is a hidden gem (sorry) not to be overlooked.

Steven Universe fans are certainly a lucky group at the moment, with two video game adaptations released since the end of October. As a home console release and sequel, I suspect that Save the Light will receive more attention; as we said in our review, its RPG gameplay, and original story by Rebecca Sugar offer plenty to keep players coming back.

However, the mobile exclusive Dreamland Arcade boasts just as much charm. Coupled with varied, easy to learn controls, I found it was a perfect fit for casual gamers, and a great way to show some love to viewers who might not have a home console of their own.

The premise is suitably minimal and explained in a single cutscene, showing Steven dreaming of the titular arcade, where the Gems (Garnet, Peridot and Amethyst), humans (Connie, Onion) and Steven himself are the stars of their own games. While I love a good game story, in the minigame genre these tend to detract too much from actual gameplay, and I appreciated the developers not trying to awkwardly include one; you can even skip the cutscene!

There are nine games in total, with three initially playable and the additional six requiring you to collect arcade tickets to unlock them. The tickets are earned by playing games, and it’s generally easy to see how your progress or score in each game is contributing to your ticket total. It’s slightly problematic that before you’ve unlocked extra games, collecting tickets feels a little too much like farming, especially given the way you earn tickets can change. For instance, in Bug Hunt your score is simply doubled to determine your ticket total, but Lion’s Beach Racer requires you to actively aim to collect tickets while running through the level, meaning that you could potentially earn more tickets in a thirty second round than in a five minute one. Despite this, my concerns disappeared once I’d unlocked more than half of the games, and it became clear that the different methods of ticket collecting in fact reveal the variety on offer. By the time you’ve unlocked a few games, ticket collecting now feels like a bonus obtained for revisiting an old favourite that you’ve neglected. As alluded to above, some games are better for fast ticket collecting than others, but even when switching between games regularly it only takes around an hour to unlock all of them.

Meanwhile, only two of the games in the collection have similar playstyles, which is a testament to the creativity of the developers at Stellarjay Studios. Likewise, almost every set of controls is intuitive and can even be played with one hand if needed (an underrated feature for mobile games). My personal favourite, Sworn to the Sword, is centred around tracing patterns that become increasingly complex to determine the effectiveness of your sword attacks and blocks. While I’m sure the mechanic has been seen plenty of times in touch screen gaming before, it was simple and satisfying to use it here. The other titles include endless runners, reflex and timing tests, and even a surprising Space Invaders homage. In the whole collection, there was only one game, Cluster Buster, that felt awkward to play, and sadly I gave up on it after less than five rounds.

Regardless of the varying controls, I was impressed with the overall level of polish in the games and even arcade menu itself. Steven Universe has always shown a clear preference for bright colours and smooth designs that are remarkably well reproduced here. I was fine with Save the Light experimenting with its visuals, but the classic style of the show will always be my preference. The sound direction is also pitch perfect and has clearly been given careful thought, as the music ranges from chirpy retro-sounding tracks reminiscent of the show’s incidental themes, to more elegant instrumentals. As this is a mobile game, it’s also worth noting that your phone’s battery won’t be totally destroyed by Dreamland Arcade; just under half an hour of gameplay using each game at least once consumed around five percent of the charge on my Android phone. Similarly, I was also pleased by the lack of a paywall and unskippable ads. In the case of the latter, you’re given the option to watch ads to continue with your round upon dying, or to earn tickets, but players are free to decide whether to do so.

My one fault with the collection is that once you’ve unlocked and played through every game a few times, there’s little to no motivation to keep at them. There are powerups and alternate costumes to be purchased with tickets that, while fun, feel like an artificial way to stretch out the game’s length. It’s likely that only the most dedicated Steven Universe fans will actively purchase every available item, or attempt to unlock every trophy in the arcade (since you’re strangely never given any hints on how to do this).

Overall, most of the games on offer in Dreamland Arcade should stay with even the most casual gamers. You might not return to it often after unlocking everything, but you’ll definitely want to keep it around.

Steven Universe: Dreamland Arcade is now available as a free download for iOS and Android.

Score
8.5/10

Alex Maynard

Alex Maynard is Bubbleblabber's Australian correspondent, but even he thought Pacific Heat was garbage. He enjoys animated films and TV shows from all over the world, with a particular interest in content produced Down Under.

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