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Review: The Sailor’s Dream

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Review: The Sailor’s Dream

Like their previous iOS game, Device 6, Simogo’s The Sailor’s Dream begins with text that you can touch and feel and shift around. Very quickly, however, the experience becomes something else entirely. Lightly choppy water comes into view, and you can glide along it by swiping left and right. Whether this water is the sea of the sailor’s hermitage or the ocean of the sailor’s mind, or whether you’re the sailor revisiting these islands of memories or merely the discoverer of his piecemeal story—well, those are exactly the kind of distinctions Simogo refuses to make. And they’re only the beginning of the double meanings.

Continued swiping leads one to discovering an islet. It hangs in the cold, blue-green water. Its greenery and earth look rich and wet from something like the melt of an Icelandic spring. Built upon the first isle is a lighthouse, ruined and battered by the relentless ocean spray. You reach the top of the lighthouse and you’re asked to go higher, to “surface.” As you pull the screen down to rise up, the words “Let go” appear and you hear the whoosh of an all-consuming wave. If these places are, in fact, the memories of a mind, is that mind entering consciousness or leaving it? It seems that, in The Sailor’s Dream, waking and sleeping wade inside one another.

Before surfacing, though, exploring the rooms of these abandoned buildings can yield small bits of prose discerned from left-behind relics. But just as often, a room may offer only a few glowing, suspended baubles, which, when tapped or plucked, pushed or stretched, produce warm, electronic pitches and tones in bursts and drones. No words can be discerned from them; they’re merely instruments, and unwieldy ones at that, rudimentary and experimental. This is play with no goal in mind. The Sailor’s Dream is as much a “sound game” as it is a video game—if it is a game at all, a proposition its own developers have posed.

Exploration and discovery offer their own rewards, but the audio is just as vital to the success of the work. The Sailor’s Dream delivers magic in visuals and sound in equal measure. Specifically, its songs, written for the game by Jonathan Eng, take center stage. The seven songs, backed by a light piano and guitar, are sung by Stephanie Hladowski, a woman with a chipper, ghostly voice, not unlike Joanna Newsom’s. Eng’s songs are breezy and familial. The panning shot across the slowly jostling sea during each song’s playthrough enhances this effect, but Hladowski’s voice adds their true flair, making each song distinct, homey and folky, somber, wistful.

Much of the grounded, desperate feeling of The Sailor’s Dream is communicated through the sailor’s hourly radio logs. He begins to talk of the many wondrous things he’s seen: world-drowning waves, a crewless self-navigating ship, a crying whale, to name a few. His voice is warmed with a touch of static. He doesn’t forget a thing, he says—except her face. It remains the object of his dreams, whether he wants it to or not. “The sea is beautiful from land; the land is beautiful from sea,” he notes restlessly. Whether he’s dreaming or awake, the other is always calling and he can’t stay silent. The Sailor’s Dream is restrained in this way: Hear him out not to piece together the puzzle, but to wade in the sea, the water, the mind, the dream.

Simogo’s The Sailor’s Dream is available on the App Store for the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.