Cavern of Dreams Review - Screenshot 1 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Cavern of Dreams leapt to the Switch eShop on 29th February 2024. We weren't able to review the game at the time but managed to catch up with it recently. And it's good! If you like that sort of thing...

Talk to any video game fan over 30 about 3D platformers and they're liable to stare wistfully into the middle distance and start mumbling about the 'golden age.' Once Super Mario 64 arrived and codified the form, the decade straddling the millennium delivered a trove of colourful treasures that routinely have platforming fans gushing, nostalgia leaking from their trouser legs. Oh, they don't make them like they used to!

Except that they do, and all that talk about the genre's 'golden age' is codswallop. Sure, it's a useful shorthand for the period before first-person shooters took over as the dominant console genre in the 2000s, but if there is a golden age of 3D platformers, we're in it. From revivals and remakes — or straightforward re-releases for purists — to brand-new entries in the biggest series, there's also a host of impressive indie efforts which aim to capture the look, feel, and soul of your Banjos, your Raymans, and your Spyros of yesteryear, as well as your also-rans that Stockholm-syndromed their way into the hearts and minds of kids who, presumably, didn't have any other games to play.

Cavern of Dreams Review - Screenshot 2 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Bynine Studios' Cavern of Dreams is one such game. Published by Super Rare Originals and following in the bounding footsteps of such nostalgic collectathon fare as Siactro's Toree series and Super Kiwi 64, you play as little, low-poly dragon Fynn. Charged with collecting hidden eggs throughout little, low-poly worlds, you'll be unlocking abilities and picking up little, low-poly mushrooms along the way to open shortcuts to move around the hub world (the titular cavern) with alacrity.

Actually, the mushrooms are 2D sprites, not polygonal, but the point is that anybody who's ever played a decent 3D platformer from the 'golden age' knows the score, and 'little and low-poly' is the name of the game here. The surprising thing is just how impressively Bynine strikes a Goldilocks-style balance between delivering all the requisite genre elements while nailing the Brothers Grimm yet comical tone of Banjo-Kazooie, and not outstaying its welcome or drowning you in collectible doohickeys.

Every aspect, from the writing to the structure, the audio to the puzzle design, feels beautifully considered. The puzzles are just oblique enough to get you thinking without being frustrating, and exploration leads to written hints in any case. With four main worlds including the hub itself (although the latter areas feel like their own separate space), there's none of the bloat which bogged down the genre in the 2000s. For the "five hours or more" it took us to play through, it's all very nicely done.

Audio-wise, the legacies of Grant Kirkhope and Dave Wise loom large in any game evoking classic Rareware platformers. For the most part, composer Benjamin Keckley eschews instantly whistleable melody here, instead leaning into ambient pieces to give the mysterious cavern just the right dose of wonder and danger. Part haunting, part jaunty, it's a grower. Prismic Palace's theme, for instance, has a Potter-esque, nursery-rhyme flavour which probably comes closest to a traditional earworm, and we enjoyed it immensely. Give it time and the low-key, slow-burn soundtrack impresses the more you hear it.

For fans of Banjo, the past echoes in the rusty, angular pipes you trot through. You see it in the neon purples and greens and autumnal reddish-browns. This reviewer never played the Spyro games, but everything here — the poster- and painting-covered walls, the single-plane iron railings, the environmental geometry and stretched textures, the quirky denizens and their speech bubbles — felt like the developers paying homage to Rareware's finest, with special attention to Clanker's Cavern and Mad Monster Mansion. The Cavern of Dreams itself isn't quite Grunty's Lair, but it captures a pinch of that hub world's magic with uncanny accuracy.

Cavern of Dreams Review - Screenshot 3 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

On the downside, the momentum-based roll mechanic never quite clicks. It's linked to a method of building up speed underwater and launching Fynn out to gain access to high places, but we never managed to pull it off consistently. Otherwise, the controls and the abilities you unlock are well-implemented and satisfying. Those moves include a glide, a bubble shot, a tailspin, and a ground-pound-style horn dive which propels you into the air a bit higher than a standard jump.

And the camera? It's fine — you'll need to nurse it a little, but it never killed us and it gave us a decent view of the environments, enabling us to perform the precise platforming called for.

For those of you who bristle at the sharpness of retro-styled polygons, there's an optional blur filter, too. It's hardly an exact match for a buzzing CRT screen with scanlines, but it looks good enough for us to toggle it on and leave it on. You can also invert the camera controls across each axis independently. We didn't notice any performance issues in our time with it.

Cavern of Dreams Review - Screenshot 4 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Having blitzed the game in a couple of evenings, it was the way in which Cavern of Dreams expresses its Banjo-esque uncanny tone and sinister fairytale vibes that stuck with us. It doesn't waste time getting into things, but even its slight story felt affecting, in an understated way.

Perhaps we're bringing some of our 'golden age' baggage with us; admittedly, you'd be hard-pressed to find bigger B-K fans. But, as with all these modern throwbacks, beyond the basic mechanics and the collectathon conventions, it's a spirit and feeling they're really trying to recapture — one that, thanks to the march of Time, isn't simply saccharine escapism but is now tinged with melancholy. Bynine does a fine job of evoking those emotions with its floating fairy dust in this little, low-poly adventure.


We can't say that players raised on the likes of Super Mario Odyssey and other modern platformers will respond the same way, but if you dream in 64-bit and your formative 3D games featured visible polygons, you won't regret exploring Cavern of Dreams. Bynine Studios gets in, delivers its payload of fairytale platforming feels with a hint of darkness, and gets out smartish. If you're a Banjo fan looking to recapture that sense of wonder you first experienced exploring Grunty's Lair, this is probably the closest you'll get without time travel or memory wipes.