I didn’t enjoy Epic Dumpster Bear 2: He Who Bears Wins. It’s an ugly and trashy (ha!) experience that has been cobbled together with what seems to be a dozen different asset packs, as are dumped on Humble Bundle from time to time. It’s a pacy 2D platformer that seems to be inspired by Sonic more than anything else, but because the’s so little consistency in the art design or presentation, there’s no sense of cohesion to any of it. It’s amateurish to the point of distraction, in other words. However, I must grudgingly respect that I’ve played far worst than this, and the developers do actually know what they’re doing when it comes to level design.
There’s good variety from level to level, and while the first couple of stages of Epic Dumpster Bear will give you the impression that the whole thing is going to be akin to an endless runner in how it behaves, that’s only for the first couple of levels. Soon enough there’s puzzle and trap elements that will test a broader range of your platfomer abilities, and then some of the secrets also start being things you need to really earn. That’s when Epic Dumpster Bear 2 is at its best.
However, it’s far too loose to be good platforming. More than a few times I lost lives, seemingly at random, standing in spots that I thought were safe. When the game asks for “pixel-perfect” platforming, the slightly stiff responsiveness of the bear makes those bits an exercise in frustration. The game also loves hiding stuff behind leaps of faith, which is some old-school platfoming that the genre, in general, has moved on from. There are moments where the game is cleverer than you thought it would be (like for example needing to throw an explosive on one side of a wall so that the blast radius will clear a block that is otherwise impossible to get at, with a rare reward behind it), and the variety is good, but the execution is very Game Maker in texture.
There are plenty of unlockables, with the main treasures being a range of coins and/or fish. Normal coins are there to make levels easier and the much more difficult coins being the real loot for completionists. The developers have even turned the end of levels into a kind of reward system, by giving you a giant archery target painted into the ground, and challenging you to belly-flop the bear into the bullseye. Your score in doing so across all the levels is tallied up as a king of “high score”. The first time you come across that you’ll have a laugh, but the harder targets are yet another exercise in frustration, because there are floating bumpers and other things that make something silly far less throwaway than it should be. Perhaps the developers were inspired by the end of Super Mario Land on the Game Boy, where there was a “bonus” exit at the end of each level which would result in a bonus minigame for lives. But those tested a player’s skills. There’s no skill to taking a jump for the target in Epic Dumpster Bear 2. You need a bit of timing to navigate the bumpers, but there’s not much more involved than that.
As I alluded to in the introduction, all of these small issues are manageable, but there is a big propblem with Epic Dumpster Bear, and that is the presentation. “Amateur” doesn’t adequately describe it. As itch.io has shown us, there are a lot of amateur games that are quite lovely on the eyes. Epic Dumpster Bear 2 suffers either from a severe lack of budget, a lack of interest in the game’s aesthetics, or the developers didn’t have an art lead on board and so really were reliant on purchasing art assets from a store. There’s a halfway-there effort to make a joke of how none of the art works together, but the humour dies away fast. Some will play though it and not care, but looking at this isn’t my idea of a good time.
To the game’s credit, there are a lot of levels, and the asking price is modest. There is some effort that has gone into making Epic Dumpster Bear 2. There are even some genuinely nice touches, like little facts about bears that pop up during loading screens, and some elements, powerups, and similar that make it clear that the game is Canadian. I like it when the developers don’t shy away from identifying their work with their culture. Unlike many low-budget platformers, there is a soul and sense that the developers weren’t just looking to make a cynical dollar. So much of Epic Dumpster Bear 2 is admirable, it’s just a pity that there wasn’t a stronger vision behind it.
– Matt S.