Childhood is a time of unfettered imagination and discovery, when the most innocuous object or idea can prompt an epic flight of fantasy.
Films such as The Neverending Story and My Neighbour Totoro nail that feeling of innocent wonder brilliantly, and Buddy & Me seems to use both as reference points.
The trouble is, it grounds these references in the most banal and formulaic endless-runner you can imagine.
It was just a dream
You play the part of a kid who, every time he slips into sleep, enters a fairytale dreamworld inhabited by his imaginary friend Buddy and a bunch of floating "bunnies". The design of these is pure Ghibli, which, of course, is a good thing.
So, what excitingly out-there treats does this child's dream world have in store for us? Alas, nothing more stimulating than running from left to right against a time limit, collecting stars.
Evidently this particular kid has been playing too much Canabalt and not enough building-forts-out-of-sheets-and-chairs.
Buddy makes things slightly more interesting by flying alongside you and periodically darting ahead to form a platform or swing for you, but this is just a slightly different way of dressing up some very familiar platforming elements.
Occasionally you'll be asked to climb on the back of Buddy, Falkor-style, and soar through the sky. But these are brief bonus interludes, and aren't as fun or liberating as they should be.
Let's clarify that Buddy & Me is a lovely-looking game with a suitably dreamy animated art-style - at least when it's standing still. In motion it all feels slightly sluggish, with a framerate that never quite matches the 'interactive cartoon' standard it's clearly shooting for.
This stuttering performance doesn't combine well with Buddy & Me's floaty controls. All you have to worry about is tapping the screen to jump, with another tap initiating a double-jump and a further hold enabling you to glide.
The trouble is, your movement is so floaty and weightless that it proves problematic, particularly when you encounter a tricky sequence of quick-fire platforms. It's quite possible to find yourself descending helplessly into nothingness, like a hot air balloon drifting slowly but inexorably towards a slow-motion crash.
This isn't helped by the inability to glide until you've initiated a double-jump. Indeed, the game just doesn't feel tight enough. We know it's a dream world, but it need more weight and heft nonetheless.
Buddy & Me is a deeply generic endless-runner that's made all the more disappointing by its promising premise and attractive artwork. It gets the aesthetics of a childish dreamworld right, but it lacks both the heart and the imagination to see it through.