Long-awaited and finally here, Media Molecule’s Dreams has launched out of its Early Access stage and is now available on Playstation 4. Here’s our review.
Of course, most of us associate Media Molecule with the brilliant LittleBigPlanet franchise, and to a lesser degree with Tearaway. Dreams, like LittleBigPlanet, subscribes to their “play, create, share” philosophy in a big way, although I wouldn’t call it a spiritual successor. Even if you never created anything in LittleBigPlanet, it was still a ‘regular’ videogame with tons of content, so playing was hours and hours of fun even if you never touched the creation suite or any creations made by others. Those, at least for me, were a bonus once I had completed the game itself.
Tearaway, in comparison, was much more like a traditional videogame – albeit one steeped in creativity. It didn’t have a suite of tools for creation, and as such didn’t develop a community of players. Which brings us to Dreams, which tips the scales in the complete opposite direction – leaning heavily on creation and sharing and less so on a traditional videogame experience. Although it’s a great piece of software, I’m guessing this will make Dreams a bit of a divisive experience. More on that later.
There’s still a developer made story adventure in Dreams, and it’s appropriately called “Art’s Dream”. Running for only about two hours, it’s short and serves as a showcase for what Dreams can do. It’s a wonderfully designed narrative campaign about a musician and his relationships with his friends, and it seamlessly blends together many gameplay types, characters to control and story elements to navigate through.
The beating heart of Dreams, however, is the “Dreamiverse” – in which you can create, share and play all kinds of user-generated content. In short, DreamSurfing is where you explore and play creations, whereas DreamShaping is where you craft your own. Although the game wanted to teach me the ropes, I started with DreamSurfing to see what was possible, and I was both overwhelmed and impressed at the same time.
The time that Dreams spent in Early Access served it well. Sure, it helps a developer to finely tune their game and code, but in the case of Dreams it also means that a lot of user generated content is already available at launch. The diversity on offer, even now, is incredible. From 2D platformers (channeling the NES) to 3D stealth action adventures, there’s a lot to enjoy. You can also find quite a few recreations of famous existing games like Mario here, which made me curious in terms of copyright laws but didn’t stop me from enjoying them.
At the same time, realizing all of these creations were made using Dreams, it got me interested in exploring the DreamShaping elements as well. Here, Media Molecule went through great lengths to carefully explain how all of the tools at your disposal work. There is so much in terms of tutorial content that you’re looking at a serious time investment to actually get good at creating something beyond a very basic demo, which is overwhelming and certainly not for everyone. Part of that is the time investment itself, but things like creation and design – no matter how easy they’ve been made – just aren’t for everyone.
Having said that – Dreams makes it very hard to resist at least giving it a try, and in my case I created a circular tower with carefully placed platforms on its side as a challenging mini platformer. I had a lot of fun makes jumps easier or harder, tweaking the experience until I got it right. I can’t see myself ever crafting something as beautiful as Art’s Dream, but I’m okay with that. Controlling everything (in creation mode) was easy and intuitive after following the tutorials, and it was a blast to use the Move controllers for something other than VR on a Playstation 4. Speaking of which – Dreams is also scheduled to support VR, but those features weren’t active at launch.
The future of Dreams will largely depend on the community and what gets added to the library of games (and art, because some creations are actually just digital art). If there’s enough quality content then this will lure in the non-creators that also loved LittleBigPlanet, but that might take time. I have no doubts though that Dreams will get better and better as time goes on, from the sandbox that it is now to a digital wonderland of user-created content. As a game it doesn’t have the instant appeal and content of LittleBigPlanet, but as a community-based creation suite it has no equal.