How do you review a game like That Dragon, Cancer…?
Based on Ryan & Amy Green’s experience of raising their son Joel who was diagnosed with cancer at the horrific age of only 12 months. Joel Green wasn’t given much time to live yet he fought & lived until he was 5. The kid was a warrior…this is his parent’s way of dealing with loss, showing the world how wonderful a child he was & most importantly this is their way of ensuring his memory lives on. We all get to meet Joel & see just how such a horrible situation can also be incredibly uplifting.
That Dragon, Cancer is an incredibly emotional game to play. Its experience is heart-breaking but one that will also raise a smile. It’s exploration/autobiographical gameplay ensures you take in as much as you can from Joel Green’s short life.
The story can’t be faulted, it’s an unforgettable experience.
Split into 14 small chapters, players take on the role of Ryan & Amy in either the 3rd or 1st person perspective. Each chapter is designed to capture some of the Green’s experiences caring for Joel with interactive characters & choices needing to be made. Some chapters include more abstract ideas such as guiding a ‘bunch of balloons’ holding Joel through space as he tries to dodge cancer cells and a go-kart race through the halls of a hospital.
These moments, while light-hearted, inevitably reveal themselves to be as emotionally fraught as the character interaction sections. Take the space ride section…at first dodging the cancer cells is easy but as it goes on they start coming thick & fast until eventually you realise that there is no escaping them. Winning isn’t an option.
The game is pretty; it looks more like interactive art & the music is compelling stuff. Both compliment the harder moments of the game & ensure you never feel disconnected from the world even if the lack of a face for Joel does.
The game can be completed in about 2 hours but you’re likely to take a bit longer because of the frustrating controls & lack of proper indications of where to go. For a game based solely on interaction it makes it far too difficult to do much of it & there are moments where you will have no clue just how to progress. You’ll end up stabbing the screen hoping to trigger something. It’s unfortunate as these moments drag you out of the world & remind you that you’re playing a videogame.
A game with a story that is likely to leave you in tears (no-one should ever have to know this pain), an art style that draws you in & music that fits every moment. All of these things makes it easy to overlook That Dragon, Cancer’s flaws.