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Cavern of Dreams Review | An N64-Inspired Platformer?

Cavern of Dreams Review by Silent Signs



Bynine Studio/ Super Rare Originals

Do you long for the warm, summer days of childhood, sipping Capri Sun out of a thin yellow straw as your mom heats up some pizza rolls in the kitchen, and you try to get through one more level of Banjo-Kazooie? Nostalgia is a hell of a drug and Bynine Studio has created the generic drug version of this longing with Cavern of Dreams, a retro platformer that looks straight out of 1997.

Cavern of Dreams is an old-school platforming adventure straight out of the nineties (except for the fact that it was released in 2023). You play as a dragon named Fynn who is tasked with rescuing their egg siblings from the clutches of evil. You'll save them from their perilous perches and return them to your home base where they can be nutured and hatched in peace. There's about as much plot here as you would expect from a late 90's platforming game (aka not a whole lot), but the story serves as a device to explain the gameplay loop, and it's pretty sucessful in doing so.

Fynn the dragon in a screenshot from the first world in Cavern of Dreams.
Play as adorable dragon Fynn in this nostalgic romp!

If you're anything like me, the first thing you're going to notice about Cavern of Dreams is that it defaults into a blur filter. You may be tempted to clean your glasses, but do not adjust your television or your visual aids-- this filter can be turned off immediately in the options menu and i would highly recommend doing so. I understand the purpose of the effect is to remain true to the era, but my eyes are bad enough on their own, thank you very much, and I do not need any help in the "blur" department.

From the menu, you enter a brief tutorial that gives you the basic rundown on Fynn's abilities, including a roll that turns into a run, a jump, and am interact button. The more eggs you save along your travels, the more abilities that are bestowed upon our hero, including some wings to glide and a horn to bounce higher than your average jump. From your main hub, the game opens up into a platforming collect-a-thon as you gather your shelled siblings, pick up cards and interact with the peculiar locals.

Environments in Cavern of Dreams feature a few puzzle elements that are reminiscent of late 90's gaming. You'll don "jester boots" to walk on air, hurl a beaker of medicine at an infected air ship's boils, and use apples to grow climbable trees to reach higher landings. The whole game feels like a fever dream, but a familiar one. The whole experience gave me the same feeling I get when i look at images of luminal spaces. There's an element of comfort and familiarity in this experience I've never had before. It's completely new, but I've played it 1000 times.

Like everything else in Cavern of Dreams, controls feel a little dated, but I have to believe this is intentional. For the most part this did not bother me, but I did almost wish I could bust out an N64 controller to play this on as I oddly think that would feel more natural, though I suppose that would technically be possible with a USB N64 controller, that's got to be a thing, right? The only issue I really had with this control scheme was the camera controls, which were a bit stiff and unwieldly. There were moments where I would be platforming near perilous edges and could not get the camera to adjust so I could adequately plan for my jumps and movement. You can adjust camera sensitivity in the options menu, but this didn't seem to help my plight. Janky cameras are one thing I am ok with leaving in the past.

A screenshot of Fynn helping Shelnert, a turtle-like NPC in Cavern of Dreams
Fear not: the blur filter can be turned off for a gameplay experience that is a little easier on the eyes

Fear not, a pitfall from a deceptive camera angle will not set you too far back, as Cavern of Dreams is quite forgiving in terms of checkpoints. While a puzzle you are working on may reset, you'll never have to backtrack too far upon a death, and your lives are not numbered, which takes a great deal of pressure off.

Another thing you may notice is that there is no real combat in Cavern of Dreams. In fact, more often than not you'll be scolded for swinging your tail at a sibling or unsuspecting townsperson. Sure, a fan blade may launch you from your perch, but nothing will result in a death animation. It's definitely a more chill experience than even a lot of the platformers I look back on fondly from that era. While I appreciate the vision here, I could have used a little bit more action to add some variety to the gameplay. Collecting eggs and solving puzzles is fun, but the worlds feel like they're lacking a bit of life at times.

A screenshot of Fynn from Cavern of Dreams speaking with an NPC called "Angry Popsicle" in an ice level
Colorful graphics harken back to the N64 era of gaming

As you can clearly see that graphics lean HEAVILY into the 64-bit era of gaming, and it's a really effective style. A lot of indie developers preserve the pixel art style or try making modern looking games, but few try to recapture the magic of the N64 generation. Perhaps these graphics don't hold up as well when viewed through the nostalgia lens, or perhaps its hard to come to terms with the fact that these once-impressive visuals now look bulky, flay and boxy--and to think this was once thought to be the pinnacle of innovation. Either way, Cavern of Dreams is quite successful at capturing the zeitgeist of the era and I count that as a win.

There's something really warm and inviting about the color scheme and textures used that fits that "dream" aesthetic flawlessly. Faces appear on all manners of inanimate objects, the NPCs are adorable, and the world is overall one I would happily visit again, even if it could use a few more residents to flesh it out.

A screenshot of the airship level in Cavern of Dreams featuring an image of the dragon Fynn amidst some mushrooms with a starry backdrop.
While a bit empty feeling at times, there is a great variety to the environments in Cavern of Dreams

The soundtrack and overall sound design is equally welcoming, with sunny acoustic guitars and synths, punctuated with flowing waterfalls and chirping birds. Fynn's little grunts are absolutely precious, and there are so many fun little touches to discover like wooden ducks that quack when hit by your tail.

As an overall experience, Cavern of Dreams is a positive one. It's oozing with nostalgia and charm from the N64 era, with plenty of secrets to discover and fun to be had. It has a few boils here and there, like a wonky camera and an unsightly blur filter, but folks looking to relive a little bit of the magic of their childhood will definitely find some here and you won't even need to dust off your old console.


+ Graphics look straight out of the 90's

+ A stunning, nostalgic soundtrack

+ Fun, low-stress platforming


- Wonky camera angles

- Environments lack a bit of life

- Blur filter I could live without

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