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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Dream Trigger 3D

Recurring dream.

"Doc, you gotta help me. I keep having this recurring dream. You see, I'm this spaceship. And I'm flying through the cosmos shooting malevolent scorpio and centaurus constellations. Just when I'm almost done it culminates with a fight against a giant enemy cancer."

"Clearly, you want to kill your father and sleep with your mother."

Maybe it's best Dream Trigger 3D doesn't have a story. A series of lucid images and techno music strung together under a hazy dream motif, Dream Trigger represents a unique spin on the tried-and-true shmup genre.

While the 3DS' top screen resembles a typical arcade shooter, the twist is that enemies are cloaked and must be exposed if you're to do any damage to them. This is done by placing pings on the sonar, represented by a grid on the touch screen.

A vertical bar sweeps across the touch screen every measure, exploding any pings it touches. Enemies caught in the blast radius are revealed. Hidden foes about to fire are conspicuously shrouded in a white cloud on the top screen, while on the bottom they're represented by purple dots.

My dreams usually involve less shooting and more arriving late to an exam in my skivvies, but to each his own.

This eliminates much of the guesswork, so the challenge comes from predicting their patterns in order to plant sonar bombs along their trajectory. It sounds complicated, but it's little more than scribbling in enemies' general direction to expose them as cannon fodder for the more traditional bullet hell shooter transpiring above.

Stripping enemies of their guise has a dual purpose, as it also refills your ammo. You're invincible while shooting, so constantly replenishing ammo becomes a necessity to avoid the onslaught of bullets. Additionally, there are random drops that increase your score, refill your health, make you invincible for a limited period of time, or briefly grant unlimited ammo.

It's a neat concept, and that extra dimension elevates what would otherwise be a forgettable entry in a well-worn genre. Having to multi-manage between two screens is a great hook, and successfully unveiling a cluster of enemies in one swipe before using your newly-charged firepower to annihilate them is extremely rewarding.

Are those white puffs the electric sheep robots dream of?

Much of this is due to Dream Trigger's groovy audio-visual feedback. It looks resplendent, with a multitude of psychedelic images enhancing the synaesthetic vibe. Between stages, your avatar morphs between a butterfly, phoenix, dolphin, and various geometric shapes among other things. Environments are even more varied, running the gamut from black and white M.C. Escher-style architecture, Rez-like vector graphics, forests, underwater escapades, and angular tunnels resembling the infamous Death Star trench run.

Despite its kaleidoscope of visual splendour, there's no sense that you're actually flying through these environments. It's still a 2D game superimposed on a 3D backdrop, with enemies dropping from above and swooping around in predictable patterns, making it more akin to Galaga than Star Fox. The 3D effect makes the already hallucinatory visuals pop that extra bit, but the superficial nature of the negative space is a let-down.

The audio is pleasing and complements the action well. Techno remixes of Bach and Mozart add a sense of gravitas, and all the songs are complimented by your improvised beeps and blips peppering the soundscape.