- Dune Sea is as close to meditation as I can get. With simple objectives, straightforward controls, and a beautifully minimalist aesthetic, this 2D side-scroller is perfect for when you need to find a few minutes of calm in your otherwise chaotic world. With only a few minor gripes and the yearning for more content, I can do nothing else but highly recommend this goose-centric gem.
Nearly everyone I know has a story that either starts or ends with a goose being a jerk, and while I certainly join the masses with flashbacks to that one day in the park, I still believe we all deserve a second (or fifteenth) chance at redemption. Dune Sea, a plucky side-scroller from Frolic Labs, rehabilitates the wrathful waterfowl’s character and delivers a soothing experience that helps pass the time.
Fresh on the heels of the infamous Untitled Goose Game, Dune Sea features a Canadian Goose (Branta canadensis) that survives the destructive power of what is either an ICBM or a giant meteor. Awaking slightly charred in the middle of the desert, players must flap their way to greener pastures across a series of 12 levels sporting various biomes and hazards. There’s nothing else to say about the plot but I wasn’t exactly expecting Skyrim levels of exposition, it’s a goose game.
The underlying objective of each level is to glide your way from point A to point B, and while flying into walls or getting eaten by a sand squid will result in death many times over, there are no penalties or timing constraints aside from restarting at your last checkpoint. Sure, players need to keep an eye on their stamina bar, but that can be easily remedied by collecting fruits, landing on the ground for a quick break, or committing the goose version of seppuku after hitting a save point (since restarting at checkpoints fully restores stamina). The stakes are laughably low and it took me far too long to realize that was the whole point.
You see, I started my review of Dune Sea sitting at my desk in a straight-backed chair with a notepad and pen; I was all business. It was only until a couple hours later when I curled up on the couch with a couple beers and some herbaceous influence that I truly began to appreciate the downright meditative quality the game exudes. Sailing through the sky above a veritable polygraphic wasteland was this all-encompassing, simple experience that required almost nothing from me but still managed to hold me captive. I played right through to the end without stopping, not to meet some deadline (you’ll notice how damn late this review is), but because I was wholly devoted to getting this goose to wherever it needed to be.
Existential experience aside, I also came to appreciate the pared-down controls. Players can flap, dive, glide, and roll over and under cliff faces, floating boulders, and evergreen forests. There’s a slight learning curve that comes with adjusting your velocity and navigating steep climbs and dives, but several faceplants into the sand are enough to get players acquainted with the game. Saving at ground level checkpoints requires players to honk (which I kept doing throughout the whole game, because why the hell wouldn’t I?), and you can recruit other birds throughout each level. Amassing a small flock not only gives you someone else to fly with, but also unlocks sets of circus-ring challenges that reward you with secret passages or collectible trophies.
In addition to the floating boulders and your standard rock outcroppings, players must also avoid the pernicious and tactically-placed sand squids, which pepper most of the levels and snag you out of the air with such ferocity that the first couple of incidents are genuinely jarring. Imagine floating through Oakwood Ridge, enjoying the placid soundtrack and rays of sunshine, when suddenly a series of black tentacles rise up and yank you down into the maw of a hitherto unseen sand beast. I won’t lie, it was slightly upsetting. It’s worth noting that players can avoid this and instead opt for Zen mode, which allows you to traverse the planes without fear of death.
Each of the 12 main levels (and three bonus Neon Sea levels) are predictably linear with only a few zigzagging exceptions, yet they never felt repetitive as a whole. The polygraphic aesthetic is absolutely stunning and the sheer variety of environments breaks up any possible chance for monotony. Dune Sea takes players through arid deserts, lush forests, icy planes, and volcanic hellscapes, all ripe with vibrant colors and a minimalist design. The artwork truly matches the game’s intentions, and is backed by a soothing soundtrack that all but lulls players into a feathery stupor.
One issue I did take with the level design is the somewhat misleading foreground and background obstacles. While plenty of hazards are visibly within your flight path, there were numerous instances of diving directly into a cliff face or outcropping believing the whole time that I was either in front or behind it on the 2D plane. This broke up the level of zen I had previously achieved and left me feeling slightly betrayed until I reloaded and got around it. There is also a slight inconsistency wherein members of your flock can run into walls without affecting you, but if the aforementioned sand squid snags one of your feathered friends, you go down with the ship as well. I’d much rather prefer leaving them to their deserved fate and getting on with my life, but Dune Sea apparently insists that the flock lives and dies as one.
I approached Dune Sea with low expectations and only a modicum of interest, but the relaxed gameplay paired nicely with the aesthetic and delivered a replayable experience that I will absolutely revisit the next time I’m waiting for the bus. There’s no deeper meaning or series of side quests, and while perfectionists can spend their time hunting down the trophies, the casual player can enjoy cruising through the skies against a gorgeous backdrop. While I would appreciate a few more levels (the synthwave Neon Seas maps were particularly fun) and perhaps a bit of customization, Dune Sea proves to be a great example of simple fun. And while I won’t be feeding the geese in the park anytime soon, I now hold them in slightly higher regard.