A little pixelated girl plagued by nightmares of being chased by a grim reaper needs your help to find her way to peaceful dreams - so grab a sword and start running!
is a pixel-art perpetual-running game in which you play as a little girl who is trying to escape being caught by a ghostly grim reaper figure that is chasing her in her dreams. She has a health bar that is reduced by encounters with enemies and obstacles in her path, and each hit slows her down and brings her closer to death. Should you avoid obstacles for long enough, over time her health will begin to replenish slowly, and the gap between her and her deathly adversary will widen, which means that the gap between her and what lies ahead reduces slightly, forcing you to be on your toes a little more.
Each run attempt happens in a foreboding forest filled with gravestones and bones and the ghostly figure isn't her only foe in the game. While she is avoiding obstacles that will damage her health and cause her to stumble she also has to be on the lookout for certain anthropomorphic animals that will attack her: foxes, wolves, and bears. She carries a sword and as she approaches one of these enemies an attack-timing slider in the shape of a sword will appear on screen. If you hit the attack key when the moving indicator is in the red zone the sword she is holding will flash and she will automatically attack the enemy at the appropriate time and kill ("pop") it. If not she will get hit by the enemy and her health will be damaged.
Death, which is inevitable and courtesy each time of the reaper, results in her waking from her dream in tears but determined to train harder to survive for longer the next time. Your aim is to find an eventual end to the nightmare as she is thrust into it every time she goes to sleep. During a run you can pick up Dream Coins that can be used when she is awake to purchase incremental upgrades for health recovery, maximum health, jumping ability, and sword timing. There is also a one-off "fox ears" purchase that will disguise you as a fox and prevent them from attacking you. These upgrades, of course, make it easier for you to last longer in each run and find a way to escape the daily nightmare cycle.
The controls are simple, and effective. The default keys, which can be customised, are Z to jump and X to attack. There are also no coin counters during the game - your total is only shown at the end of each run, along with a count of fox, wolves, and bear kills - and there is also no distance counter within the game. That, too, is only displayed once a run ends, along with your best distance measurement, and a measurement of "flawless" running (not losing any health) in the run, as well as the best flawless score you've achieved over all your attempts.
The lack of counters, bar the health indicators, during the game was strange to me at first but after a few runs I began to appreciate that they weren't there. It allowed me to focus solely on the gameplay and enjoy the graphics as I was doing so, rather than worry about distance and time.
When you first start playing the game seems quite difficult, occasionally bordering on frustrating, because much of it is luck based and after the first few (very quick) deaths you will begin to wonder if it's an impossible to task escape the nightmares. However, as you begin to buy upgrades, each of which have a noticeable effect on the gameplay, it becomes easier and a lot more fun.
Your timing ability will also improve with more experience running and it will get to the point where you will play just for the fun of it or to complete the list of in-game achievements rather than specifically to try and win. The developers, Anna Oliver (art) and Greg Lane (programming), have said that at full upgrades the game has been designed to ensure that no impossible situations arise and I can confirm that in my many runs through I never saw one. If anything happened it was because I made a mistake in my timing. Before you've fully upgraded, however, you may run into a few obstacle situations that are inescapable - that's part of the game.
The graphics palette is restricted to largely muted greys/creams and reds/oranges, which fits well with the pixel art and dreamlike quality of the game. The animation is smooth and level progress is represented using parallax scrolling in both the foreground and multiple layers in the background to simulate the running through the forest.
As wonderful as the graphics are I think my favourite part of the game is the sound design. The menu music, "I Still Have Hope" by Greg Lane, has a lullaby feel and during the gameplay Fear Less!
features a lovely chiptune track, "[o<>o]" by Tony McCoy
, that gives a sense of pace and urgency as you're running. The sound effects, which remind me of arcade games from the 1980s, naturally complement the pixel art. (Speaking of which, there is also a setting in the options menu, on by default, that automatically adds a "retro effect" to the graphics.) Best of all, the soundtrack can be downloaded for free via Anna Oliver's deviantArt stash
is absolutely charming, especially for such a macabre theme, and much of its beauty is in its well refined simplicity. The game is quite short (there is an ending but I don't want to spoil how you get to it or what happens) but that does reduce feelings of frustration and the sense that you're just grinding for coins - a smart choice on the part of the developers. In fact, there is so much potential here, in the gameplay, story, and characters, that I hope they will make a sequel.