Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: February 14th, 2020
Genre: Is there one? Sandbox, Adventure, Creative all can describe it, yet fall short with all you can do
Developer: Media Molecule
Publisher: Sony PlayStation
Is a dream a wish your heart makes, when it’s fast asleep? That’s what Cinderella and Disney has us all believing, but it’s more than that. We know of all these different dream states from philosophers and psychologists, but in the end we each have our own interpretation of what a dream is. Media Molecule has their own idea as well, and I am proud to bring you our thoughts on PlayStation’s newest exclusive, Dreams.
There is a lot to Dreams, so I’m going to divide it into a few sections. Art’s Dream is the “campaign” for Dreams, Dream Shaping is making your own dream, and Dream Surfing is finding others creations.
This as mentioned before, is the campaign for Dreams. I’ll let you know ahead of time, it is pretty short, lasting about 2-3 hours. I can say it feels bigger than that, if only due to how meaty the gameplay sequences are. I kept thinking, I’m almost finished, and then there was more.
You play as Art, a musician who leaves his band at the beginning of the story. Since then, he feels quite alone and depressed, which are subjects this heartfelt story deals with. As the game is named Dreams, this is how the story is presented, in a dream. This allows Media Molecule to do a lot of things and try different styles of gameplay.
Honestly, the story should not work as well as it does.
The opening brings to your attention a few items from your past which become the protagonists you play. They’re random toys from your past, and the “big bad” is your fear of a weird crow. Is it kinda weird? Yes? Does it worth though? Yes again. I’m not sure how Media Molecule accomplishes it, but everything fits the way it needs to in its own odd way. Although let’s be real, a little sack creature running around in a fabric world is pretty strange and those are fantastic games.
For how strange it is, the story is very relatable. Art is a man who is dealing with some issues and feels like he’s been left by his friends. In all reality he’s the one who leaves them, but as someone who has dealt with depression and other things I can tell you the person rarely realizes that. I love that Media Molecule tackled this topic even in a small story, because it’s something many people are going through.
There are many game genres that make an appearance in Art’s Dream. Platforming is the main one, as it is Media Molecule’s bread and butter. But the way they show each other genre is astounding. It’s just done so cleanly. From the walking simulator, to the puzzle, to the endless runner/driving stage, it all blends together. Media Molecule finds just the right pinch of each thing, and it shows in a cohesive experience.
It’s a pretty game too. The claymation-like art suits the style Media Molecule employs. It also fits with the story, but that’s the mark of a good developer. I keep saying it, but everything fits so well. The graphics, the soundtrack, everything. And this is a level seemingly built for demonstration! I believe Media Molecule when they call it a “labor of love”, but I’m doing them an injustice to not praise this piece of art.
What’s probably most impressive about Art’s Dream is that it was made in Dreams.
I don’t just mean they devs sat on their computers and built it, but Art’s Dream was fully developed in the game. It feels as clean as a Little Big Planet title, yet you and I have access to the same tools to make things as good. Admittedly, Media Molecule is a team of phenomenal developers, but if you take the time to learn, it’s incredible what is possible.
Wrapping your head around the technical marvel of Dreams is tough. But if you play Art’s Dream, it makes it all the more hard to believe. Full-fledged games are possible in Dreams, and Art’s Dream only further cements the fact.
This brings us to one of the bigger parts of Dreams, Dream Shaping. This is where you get to make your own “dreams”. I will start this out saying, I’m not much when it comes to these kind of games. I’m the guy who plays Super Mario Maker 2 to play things made by others.
However, the tools Media Molecule provides are incredible. And they do a great job teaching you how to use them. There is an intro portion where you do different quests for the imp of the narrator. This is a great intuitive way for the game to show you how to do things. It leaves things feeling clean, and you’re learning while earning rewards.
Something Fortnite really succeeds in is their Battle Pass challenges. You spend time doing these and earning things, so you don’t care how much time you’re sinking into the game. Dreams succeeds similarly in that you can put plenty of time in without feeling an annoying grind. There is so much to the tools Dreams employs that this is a much bigger deal than one may think.
While I didn’t get very far in the tutorials, there are a few different types. The first plays more like a game’s tutorial. You are completing things in order to progress in the level. These are simple ones but things you need to know to do any building. Especially when they show you the button shortcuts to do things quicker.
The walkthroughs built into Dreams are one of my favorite parts of the Dream Shaping experience. There is a menu of how to videos available to Dreamers. The reason it’s impressive is a video appears in the corner of a custom level. Instead of you watching a video and then trying to figure it out, the short videos guide you through as you learn different mechanics. It’s like Media Molecule played their own game and thought about helping the gamer with the least knowledge of any programming. It’s one thing to assist a player, it’s another to teach them, and Media Molecule does this.
That’s the reason that Dreams can be both complex yet accessible.
While some may not care to try to build a dream, level, or game, they aren’t at a disadvantage if they decide later to attempt it. Those how to’s will be right there waiting for them. The amount of level training available is pretty amazing as well. You have basic things to learn, but it even delves into shadows and lighting, character creation, and logic (wiring and systems).
The other thing that makes creating your own stuff in Dreams even easier is the sharing functionality available. Dreamers can allow their creations to be up for grabs, and if you’re following people it makes that much simpler. I saw many different sounds, characters, and such right there for my use. There are several creators who are even working together to build games, just like a dev team. Being able to make a game, sculpture, or piece of art is amazing. Growing it into something bigger with a friend, new or old, is even better.
You can simply do everything a developer can do in Dreams. The chance to learn it is also there. While there is a lot to take in, if one is patient they can eventually build a whole game. Or if you want a hand, you can borrow or work with other Dreamers. I’m really interested to see how many indie creators may come out of this venture. I can imagine PlayStation and their studios using this to pick talented players to join their teams.
This leads into the last part of this review, Dream Surfing. As I’ve said all review long, this game is impressive. But even more impressive still is what Dreamers are making. And not just games, but art, sculptures, music, the list goes on.
I remember how incredible the Little Big Planet level creators were, and what people did with it. Someone built a working calculator, there was a FPS akin to Nazi Zombies from Call Of Duty. The one I’ll never forget was someone recreating the entire opening of Batman: The Animated Series. It’s like Media Molecule saw what people could do with tools not made for what they were using them for and wondered what would happen if they gave them the right ones.
I could sit here for a long time going down a list of things you can try in Dreams, and I’d have to get back with you again, because there is that much. There is a ton I have yet to discover. Dreams is definitely at an advantage given a near year of early access, but it seems we’re just now hearing about some of these levels and creations.
Let’s just talk about a few of these awesome dreams.
Pip Gem Walker sounds like a silly name, but it’s an adorable platformer featuring a sloth main character. The gameplay reminds me of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and it’s more or less a full game. Space Wars: ForceFighter is definitely a Star Wars ripoff, but my oh my is it an incredible “ripoff”. You fly an X-Wing, and have the chance to take on Tie Fighters. The fact that you can make something like in Dreams is just astounding. These are regular players like you and I taking advantage of an amazing set of tools at their disposal.
There is one called Heroes Of Aldrenor (pictured above) that is phenomenal. It has multiple heroes to choose from, that have different fighting styles. The Dreamer has put cut-scenes with subtitles in (no voice-overs) that have different angles to add to the feel of it. The combat is even fun, with a feel to swinging a sword as well as to getting hit. There is even a lite inventory system with health and shield “potions” to pick up. What DarkestEssence (the Dreamer) has managed to do is mind-boggling. Sure, it’s not a polished Elder Scrolls RPG, but its more than expected, which I guess could be the tag line for Dreams.
There’s someone who has recreated the Ghost Of Tsushima fight from the E3 trailer already. Another person has rebuilt PT (Silent Hills demo), and even if it isn’t spot on it’s impressive. You have art like a perfectly made PS4 controller. There’s a visual creation of a robot and when it talks it will blow your mind how real it all looks. Dreamers aren’t just making incredible things, they’re doing more than anyone ever could have imagined. I guess that’s why these are “dreams”.
I’m very happy with how Media Molecule has set up the menus for Dream Surfing. Super Mario Maker 2 made some very smart choices with the ability to follow creators and tag your levels based around what they were. In Dreams this is even more important because you can make so much. Following Dreamers allows more in Dreams because it unlocks the potential to borrow assets from them for your creations. Tags are as simple as they sound. Use them to tell people what you made, and they are easier to search. It’s something smart developers add, and Media Molecule is one of those developers.
Dream Surfing is a seamless experience, and it allows players to try out or view others dreams. You can restart, you can save to play later, you can even remix levels when the creator allows you. As with Dream Shaping, Media Molecule takes something that could be very complex and simplifies it for the players.
In conclusion, Dreams is an absolute masterpiece and a win for Media Molecule and PlayStation. I’m not much of a builder, but in Dreams I don’t have to be. Someone who loves to create is going to have a field day here. With so many kids growing up on Minecraft, it will be interesting to see if they make the jump over. I mean, they could even make Minecraft in Dreams (and someone already is).
I hope Media Molecule decides to add more of their own creations like Art’s Dream into the game. The bar is set so high with this mini-campaign, and I can’t wait to see what they will do next. The next step in my opinion is to have this ready for PS5. There are a lot of Dreamers bound to do a ton with the amount of power the next-gen system looks to provide.
There are no weaknesses in Dreams, and it’s strengths stretch far beyond what you think it can do. This is more than a game, it’s a platform and a community. Dreams has the potential to be one of the most impactful creations of 2020, and I can’t wait to see what the Dreamers do next.
Dreams is available now exclusively on PlayStation 4 for only $39.99. You can purchase it digitally by clicking right here! Thanks again to our partners at PlayStation and the incredible Brian K for providing a review code.
David Burdette is a gamer/content creator from TN. He loves Playstation, Marvel, Star Wars, and many other fandoms. You can check out his content at YouTube.com/SplitEnd89 or on Twitter @SplitEnd89.