Title: Dreams Released On: February 14, 2020 Genre: Game Creation System Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Developer: Media Molecule Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment MSRP: $29.99USD / $39.99CAD
Making Dreams a reality.
It’s hard to know where to even start talking about Dreams. I’ve never played, or perhaps better-said experienced, something quite like this before. Media Molecule’s game creation system is a wholly unique and completely unprecedented adventure. It doesn’t only encompass pretty much every genre within gaming — and it’s only been out for just over a week — but is the perfect encapsulation of a “multimedia” experience. Games? Check. Art? Check. Music? Check. Video shorts? Check. All of the above combined into one?
Oh, you’d better believe it. Dreams isn’t just a video game; it’s an experience.
The game creation system itself builds off what Media Molecule had experimented with in Little Big Planet‘s Create Mode, which allowed players to build their own levels to share with the LBP community. Create Mode was just a stepping stone in the developer’s grand vision, which has evolved into what they now call “Dreamweaving.” After getting their feet wet experimenting with a creation system in the Little Big Planet franchise, Media Molecule stepped back and provided us with an exceptionally powerful system, capable of creating everything from full video games, to stunning pieces of art, music and animated videos.
Building off of the Create, Play, Share mantra of the developer, Dreams is a new way for people to create and experience virtual worlds together; a multimedia social space. It’s possible to simply sit back and scroll through a seemingly endless library of games and multimedia, picking and choosing the Dreams that tickle your fancy. The real power of Dreams comes from the ability to not just create these experiences for other players to enjoy, but to collaborate across disciplines to create adventures that bring together the skills of different people.
In Dreams you control an adorable little Imp, which is your key to unlocking the full power of the system. Using your little furry friend, you can learn to manipulate the world around you. You can take control of other living creations — or in some instances inanimate objects — and use them to interact with your environment. There is definitely a learning curve to being able to fully take advantage of everything that Dreams offers the player, but luckily there is an exceptionally extensive tutorial which walks you through how to utilize the Dreamweaving creation engine using either the Move or dualshock controller.
If you’re like me and apprehensive about jumping right into creation, even with the thorough tutorial, there are a wealth of experiences at your fingertips which will no doubt entice you to explore what’s possible when tapping into your own creative instincts. I would fully recommend starting with ‘Art’s Dream’ before getting lost in the abundance of player creations, not just because it will help to show you the power of the creation engine, but because in itself it was a heartwarming and magical experience.
To get you started on your adventures within Dreams, Media Molecule has created a stellar campaign — Art’s Dream — that not only shows off the full possibilities of the system, but also teaches the player how to best utilize the wealth of options at their fingertips. Art’s Dream itself was unlike any other game that I’ve ever played before, because the multifaceted adventure is so seamlessly blended together. It’s a heartwarming story of redemption and triumph, and one that will keep you invested until its climax. There are also numerous collectibles dotted throughout the experience that you can collect with your Imp to decorate your Homespace, and I’m already considering a second playthrough to grab them all.
While itself a fully fleshed out story, Art’s Dream also acts as a sort of tutorial. You’ll spend a lot of time getting familiar with controlling your Imp, whether through motion control or using the dualshock sticks, and using your Imp to manipulate the world. Art’s Dream is part platformer, part rhythm game, part musical, part brawler, and all heart. While itself an entertaining story to experience, and one that admittedly had me choked up on multiple occasions, the real purpose of Art’s Dream is showcasing the true power and possibility contained within the Dreams engine.
A large part of the genuine impressiveness of Dreams is the system’s overall accessibility. There are multiple ways to experience Dreams, and the game fits you into a category based on where you find yourself the most often. From there however, it entices you to go outside of your comfort zone and experience the system in ways that you may not have considered, especially through special Imp Quests that rewards players for exploring all aspects of Dreams. For someone like myself who was apprehensive about actually making a new game from scratch, Dreams did a wonderful job of making that possibility feel within reach; although I still haven’t been confident enough to actually share anything yet. But more on that later.
In addition to being able to choose exactly what you want to play or experience within Dreams, you are also afforded three different ways to choose how you want to interact with the worlds at your fingertips. You can of course play with the PlayStation 4 dualshock controller, which allows you to choose between motion controls or standard controls. If you’re like me however and have a set of PlayStation Move controllers and a PS4 camera, it provides the user with much more control over how they manipulate their Imp and interact with the environment.
There were some slight issues occasionally with tracking the Move controllers, which made movement feel a bit awkward and jerky in some instances. This occurred typically when I was trying to use them to traverse through my own creation space using my Imp, and was only a minor annoyance when I had to perform precision actions. Since user the Create tool is a very precise process, it’s likely just that it requires a much more deft hand; something I am still perfecting after my time with Dreams. That being said, it is very easy to switch between any of the control options, as simply picking up a controller and hitting a button will switch the control scheme.
This was especially useful when I started to dive into all of the player-made creations, because many of them are specifically designed for use with the controller, and will not function properly using the Move controllers. I also made the switch several times when working my way through all of the Dreamweaving tutorials, because I was having some difficulty with manipulating objects around an axis.
In addition to this core campaign, both Media Molecule and the Dreams community have already created a number of experiences which unto themselves are entertaining, but together really show how far you can stretch your creative muscles using the creation system. Want to stomp through a major metropolitan hub as a Kaiju and wreak havoc with your flame breath? Just head on over to MM’s Ruckus – Just Another Natural Disaster, which shows some of the world-building, and simultaneously destroying, capabilities of Dreams. Have some aggression to take out after a long day at work? Well, Art Therapy has just what the doctor ordered. Or perhaps you just want to kick back with some music and dream about the lunch you wish you had?
Where I ended up spending the majority of my time, after having some difficulty with my own creative side, was playing through and experiencing other people’s creations. Dreams doesn’t just allow players to make games from scratch, but can be used to create absolutely stunning pieces of art and beautiful music, often in tandem. Even after a week and a half, it’s still actually mind-blowing some of the things that people have been able to make using just Media Molecule’s engine.
I am glad that I opted to take a little more time with my review to really obtain a deeper grasp of what really was possible within the engine. When I first started playing the game in Early Access there were some wonderful creations that had been worked on through the pre-release period, but after a week and a half the library has absolutely exploded with new content. There is definitely a lot of unpolished, unfinished, or generally uninspired content, but luckily a number of search features and impressive user-moderating helps to sift through and find the true gems.
Only a week and a half into launch and the creations that people have been uploading range from the uninspired and mundane to the absolutely out-of-this-world thoughtful experiences. I could likely write hundreds of articles purely on the creations that people have brought to life in Dreams but I think it’s important to highlight some of them to truly show what the engine is capable of. As many people will likely be like me and spend the majority of their time delving into other players’ creations before taking one on themselves, seeing what other Dreamers had come up with genuinely inspired me to learn the art of Dreamweaving.
Of everything that I experienced in Dreams, I was absolutely thrilled to come across not only a recreation of my favorite horror demo P.T. by lewisc729, but expanded levels that users had created to take the Playable Teaser to new heights. There is even a fan-made Silent Hills done by a DrJones20, that while exceptionally rough around the edges, made me want to play every minute of it. While the creations didn’t quite nail the terrifying mechanics of the original, it’s exceptionally impressive how close they came to recreating the environment and its tense atmosphere; even a polygonal Lisa is still very capable of making you jump out of your seat.
After spending a lot of time delving through player creations, I’m personally very curious to see if and how copyright claims will begin to affect the ecosystem of Dreams, especially as Dreamers continue to perfect their craft and bring additional IPs into the fold. I’ve already played miniature remakes of Fallout 4, Mario, Simpsons Hit & Run, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and several others, and while these experiences don’t detract from the original games — if anything they are homages to other series — some publishers are a little more protective about their IPs than others.
It’s not just concerning games either that Dreamers are delving into the murky waters of intellectual property rights. There are video shorts and resource packs that have been uploaded for a number of animated shows, such as Family Guy and The Simpsons, and even a fully animated version of the intro scene from Star Wars: A New Hope which was excellently done. I’m no intellectual property rights expert, but seeing the amount of IPs that are already being touched upon in Dreams creations just gave me pause to wonder how that would be dealt with, and affect the overall ecosystem, further into the games’ life.
As I’ve touched upon earlier in the review, admittedly I still have a lot of work to do in stretching my creative muscles in Dreams; as it turns out that I am not exceptionally skilled with the “Weaving” side of things. That being said, even for someone like myself who struggles a bit with creating something from scratch, the game itself makes me want to learn all of the nuances that could turn me into a true Dreamweaver.
In the short week and a half that Dreams has been live, there has already been an explosion of content that has used the engine in ways that was not seen in the Early Access months. Not only does it show the power of Dreams as a creative tool, and perhaps more-so playground, but moreover how it has been able to invoke that creativity in so many users you may not have otherwise found themselves so inclined.
For that reason, I’m planning to follow up on my official review with a subsequent piece in March which will look at the state of the game after a month of activity, because there is no doubt that the experience will have evolved exponentially from what we are all playing today. By this time I am also hoping to have my own Dream-woven, or at the very least be comfortable enough to release something in-progress.
What excites me the most about Dreams is that it will undoubtedly breed a new generation of game designers, artists, and musicians. People who may have never considered delving into these fields are given an exceptionally accessible creation system that can serve as a wonderful introduction to any of these disciplines. While starting off creating music using Fruity Loops, creating art with Adobe Photoshop, or designing games using Unity, are often seen as a daunting barrier to people trying to fulfill their creativity, Dreams could very well be that bridge between, well, dreams and reality.
Dreams is a sum of its parts. It’s not just a game creation system, but a game creation experience. While any of the individual aspects of Dreams are impressive in their own rights, together they coalesce into something that is wholly unique, and frankly unparalleled in the industry. What we see from Dreams in February 2020 will likely be very different from how the ecosystem looks later this year, and into 2021. Where we now have a wealth of playable concepts, many of these will likely evolve into fully-fleshed games and artistic experiences that will create a dynamic and ever-changing ecosystem.
Final Score: 10/10
Dreams isn’t just a video game; it’s an experience. A constantly evolving ecosystem of art, music and games which will continue to grow as more users realize their creative power.
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment Canada.