Retro Review: “Psycho Dream” (Super Famicom)

Good day, fellow psychos. Today we’re going to take a look at Psycho Dream, a side-scrolling action game developed by Riot and published by Telenet in 1992 for the Nintendo Super Famicom (aka the Super Nintendo in the US).

Psycho Dream is set in a sci-fi inspired alternate reality, one where a new form of entertainment known as “D-Movies” have become the new hotness among all the cool kids. Tp experience a “D-Movie” jack into dream-powered worlds that are crafted around their own imagination. From time to time, those who enter the D-Movie dream worlds will find themselves trapped within them. These unfortunate souls are called “sinkers”, and they must be rescued from their state.

One of these sinkers is a young girl named Sayaka, and players can choose from either the sword-swinging Ryo or the infinitely sexier, whip-wielding Maria to delve into the dreamlike world and rescue her. To do so, you will have to overcome six stages that are packed with all manner of animalistic monsters and naturally capped off with a final boss fight. Your character can run, slash, shoot, and use magical attacks to survive each stage.

I’m going to “subvert expectations” by spoiling the final boss up front, otherwise known as pulling an EGM (*cough!* Super Metroid review *cough!*)

While this is admittedly a limited set of attacks, both Ryo and Maria have a slightly different move set, based on their weapons. To swap between your melee and ranged attacks you have to collect yellow or blue crystals that are dropped by defeated enemies. As you collect crystals of the same color, you power up these attacks, making it much easier to defend against enemies.

If you fully power up your attack, you can find red crystals, which grant Ryo and Maria a special “dream” form, an armored robot for Ryo and a fairy for Maria. Both of these “final forms” grant the heroes fully upgraded, simultaneous ranged and melee attacks, while Maria’s fairy wings grant her the bonus ability to glide when jumping. I wasn’t able to determine if Ryo’s robot form granted him any special abilities, but you were already playing as Maria anyway, right? She is smoking hot, after all. In addition to these weapon upgrades, you can also find pink crystals which restore a few bars of health, and green crystals that provide a temporary shield.

Like many of the games of its era, completing Psycho Dream isn’t exactly a cakewalk. Fortunately for you, the developers have included seemingly infinite restarts and a fairly generous set of checkpoints, so you’re never reduced to square one so long as you keep at it. There’s not really much platforming to worry about until later in the game, and while there are some Mega Man-style disappearing platforms, there aren’t any insta-kill bottomless pits. The action is primarily the hacking and slashing of the enemies, which can easily overwhelm you when they swarm in large numbers. There are a few areas, however, where you can simply use the run button to blow past entire rooms of enemies before they can be any threat to you. You can certainly choose to slow down and fight it out, but these areas still should have been better laid out from a design standpoint.

It will take a few practice runs to overcome some of the boss fights, as it is sometimes difficult to know if you’re hitting their proper weak points. I still can’t confidently say where the giant cicada’s weak point is. It may be its face, but the collision didn’t seem to register properly, if so. On the other hand, I managed to defeat the giant jellyfish boss on the first try while taking only minimal damage. The final boss is a massive alien-esque robot that spans several screens, vertically. It reminded me quite a bit of the final fight against Lucifer in Super Ghouls and Ghosts, but Psycho Dream’s giant robot alien doesn’t move around the screen.

Pro Tip! Destroy the final bosses hands first, then its head. He’s tough, but stay as low as possible and keep moving so that he can’t zero in on you.

No matter which character you choose, they each have a unique look and animate well enough for 16-bit fare. The enemy designs are very colorful, and when they are often very interesting when they are large enough to see the detail. These can be horrific takes on fish, birds, insects, dragons, and even multi-sprite, giant, flying red sperm. The smaller enemies, on the other hand, can look indistinct by comparison, and aren’t too visually different from colored blobs.

While some of the stages aren’t quite as interesting as others, a few of them are rather nice. A couple of standouts for me were the cherry blossom stage and the parade of lights in the background of the final boss battle (not that you’ll get much chance to admire it). There’s also quite a few special effects, including smoke and mist transparencies and glass “reflections”, and the vibrating screen in the subway stage was a nice touch, too.

The sound in Psycho Dream is one of the game’s weakest points. The soundtrack orchestrations are decent compositions, but the composer seems to have leaned too far into the “dreamlike” setting of the game rather than creating a pulse-pounding soundtrack more appropriate for an action packed side-scroller. The exception to this is the final boss fight, which has a fittingly dramatic chiptune rendition of Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria. I wouldn’t call that “cheating” or anything, but when the best tune in your soundtrack is by a composer who died roughly 200 years ago, you need to put your best foot forward with the other music tracks.

To round out the nitpicks – it would have been nice if Psycho Dream had featured a two-player simultaneous mode, but given the amount of slowdown and flicker already present in the game, this might have been too much for the Super Famicom/SNES to handle.

Is Psycho Dream worth playing today? Yeah, it’s a pretty good time, but there are a few things that hold it back from being great. In fact, a more engaging soundtrack and a few tweaks to some of the stage designs and layouts, and Psycho Dream could very well be remembered as hidden gem. As it is, Psycho Dream is absolutely worth your attention today if you’re a retro gamer with an eye for side-scrolling action.

While Super NES gamers never received Psycho Dream outside of Japan, Nintendo added it to the list of bonus Super Nintendo games playable with Nintendo Switch Online, so there’s no time like the present to try out an old import title, especially considering that the original Super Famicom cartridge is a bit on the pricey side.

How about closing out with some Maria Tobari fan art by Videajames?

Thanks for reading!

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