Epic Dumpster Bear made me realize how important presentation is in a video game. Graphics aren’t everything, but they help when the rest of your game is relatively mundane and in some cases bad. Immediately starting the game my impression was that this was definitely made in Unity. I’m not knocking Unity when I say that, it’s just that the visuals in the game looked like they were created with pre-made assets available with no adjustments made to them. The generic backgrounds lack any detail and the character models suffer from the same issues, but they do have a bit more shading and detail than the backgrounds. This game isn’t easy on the eyes and on the ears its background noise. The music is appropriate to whatever theme the current level is, but it never manages to capture your attention and ends up as forgettable. Aside from these aesthetics, let’s get into the actual game.
Upon starting you get a brief description of the story. A nameless evil organization destroys a bear’s home who is now forced to eat from dumpsters, but the bear claims vengeance on the organization. The story is minimal and goes for a comical approach, even giving random facts about bears in the loading screens, but I don’t particularly find it humorous. As far as the gameplay, Epic Dumpster Bear is a pure 2D platformer that seems most inspired by the Super Mario Bros. series, but unlike that series, Epic Dumpster Bear falls short on a lot of fronts. The most egregious of them all are the controls. Running feels loose and slippery; there’s a slow start up to it, but once you start running you gain speed, but lack control to stop. It’s akin to running on ice in a Mario game and it’ll take time to get used to it as you’ll likely get many deaths due to sliding off the edge of a platform after a run jump because you still have momentum. To cope with this I often pressed the d-pad back on my jumps. You also have a wall jump in addition to your regular jump and it can feel a bit finicky, but you shouldn’t have any problems most of the time once you take your time with it.
Unfortunately, the level design doesn’t make up for it. The first two worlds are mundanely average with little obstacles in your way or challenges to test your hand-eye coordination and it ended up feeling like a chore to complete them. There are occasional segments in some levels where you’re free falling trying to collect coins while also avoiding bumpers that give a very weird metallic clink when you bounce from them. These segments would be fine if they didn’t end with a splat to the ground that follows with a lengthy animation of the bear pulling himself up from the floor. Repeating these segments after a death became a pain.
On the subject of death, you get two hearts. Each hit costs a heart. Upon death you can spend fifty coins that you gathered throughout levels for an extra heart. There are also three red coins per level that you can collect that will earn you an extra salmon at the end of each level (salmons function like stars in the 3D Mario games, but they only become important in the game’s post world which requires salmon unlocks for each level). Normally I’d have a tendency to gather collectables like these in platformers, but as I wasn’t enjoying the core experience, I had little reason to go out my way to acquire these red coins, but they do require some skill or exploration to obtain. Many of the level designs felt like they were taken out from the 2D era of Mario bros with some scrolling elevator platforms over a death pit and platforms with a hazardous energy circling them à la Hot Heads, but they felt like pale imitations without much identity of their own.
You’ll also get power-ups on occasion, but similar to Super Mario Galaxy, the power-ups are a more of a mechanic that the level is designed around than a tool to make obstacles a bit easier. There are only two in this game: bombs and a fart. Bombs are mainly used to clear boulders blocking your path and gives you a long range option of taking out enemies. The fart only shows up twice in the game and the two instances are among the best levels. The fart is basically a double jump. After performing your first jump, press it again and the dumpster bear farts further propelling him into the air. The levels with this power-up often have tall structures or long gaps that you wouldn’t normally be able to reach without it and these levels feel more tense and faster paced than the others.
The levels start to pick up around the third level of the third world when the game introduces homing missiles and the levels start to become more complicated and thought provoking. I had a legitimate smile on my face with a few levels in the fifth world, but unfortunately it was a little too late by then and I was still plagued by some of the worst boss segments I ever played in a game. At the end of each world there is a boss you have to fight and each fight goes one of two ways: throw bombs at it from a distance and jump over it or wait for the enemy to expose its weak point and jump on it an x amount of times. You may become frustrated with the tedious task and attempt to get a few extra hits on the boss while it’s running across the screen, but you’ll likely get hit due to slippery nature of the run mechanic, so it’s best to try and sneak in one and then go back to hitting it by the wall and jumping either above it or over it. The final level consists of a boss fight and it ended too abruptly. There was a short cutscene and then a screen notifying you that you beat the game with no credits whatsoever. It feels empty.
As I mentioned earlier there is a seventh world that opens when you beat the game and there’s a salmon lock behind all the levels. I only played the first level of this post world and it was serviceable. On the subject of replay value, if you choose to replay this game other than the post world, you do have the option of going back and getting the red coins needed to unlock the last levels. There are bonus levels that you naturally unlock throughout the game as well and there some are locked behind hidden paths that show up in certain levels.
Epic Dumpster Bear isn’t terrible. It runs smoothly with no frame rate hiccups or annoying glitches, but the controls are counterintuitive and the first few worlds are a bit of a drag. You’ll start to have some fun if you can manage to hang around until the fourth world, but the game hits its stride too late in the adventure, making it nearly impossible to warrant a replay.