The new Sony Interactive Entertainment game Dreams is one of the most creative and groundbreaking titles to ever hit store shelves and your PS4. It’s so unexpectedly different that it’s really very difficult to even review, and many critics have stated that Dreams isn’t really a game at all. And … they’re right.
Little Big Planet gamemakers Media Molecule have kicked things up a notch (or 10) from their past levels of platforming and fan-creation play. They’ve crafted a gaming, creating and sharing platform, more than anything else. It’s an animation program, a music studio, a movie-making workshop, an art room and a game compendium all wrapped up in one enjoyable little package.
So, where to start the review. Hmmm …
Well, let me begin by telling you what this game isn’t. You definitely should not come in expecting a 40-hour campaign of Little Big Planet-likesock-puppet characters who whisk you off on an adventure of ever-more-difficult challenges. That’s not on the menu here.
Instead, Dreams kicks things off with a short-but-intuitive tutorial that playfully helps you learn how to move, shape and interact with this digital environment using the PS4’s motion-sensing controls and a small, helpful cursor/critter called an Imp. With the Imp’s help, you don’t need to know a single thing about coding or programming. You just move it around the screen, indicate your desires and let the game’s creative tools rule the world.
After that initial tutorial, you’re given the option of playing with the creation side of things in the Dream Shaping section of the game, or seeing the kinds of assets that can and have been crafted already in the Dream Surfing section. Truthfully the dream-surfing option is the only wave you should take right off the bat. There you’ll find a several-hour-long adventure about an emotionally wrought bassman called “Art’s Dream,” that’s wonderfully creative and fun. The adventure also gives you a clear vision of the kinds of things that you can create.
“Art’s Dream” was totally crafted—with rich musical underscores and various art styles—using only Dreams’ game tools. And it explores at least a half dozen other different game genres and a little musical theater as well. In the Dream Surf section, you also have access to what’s rapidly growing into a massive “Dreamiverse” of games, art, music videos and short movies created by other Dreams users.
That huge catalog of already-crafted things even comes into play when you’re shaping your own ideas and digital dreams into something wonderful.
You can build environments, characters and objects from scratch, on your own, through various tools and painting options. But you can also pull up a search menu that allows you to look for assets that someone else has created (just as the whole Dreams community can use anything that you take the time to painstakingly craft.) Oh, and when you or someone else get to the point of publishing a personal masterpiece, the game automatically gives credit to everyone who has exerted creative energy in dreaming it up.
I won’t go into the details of the building and shaping process, but you can be assured that it will feel daunting at first. The tool menus are relatively simple to access, but this sandbox takes some effort and a lot of practice to feel comfortable in. There are some wonderful masterclass videos, hosted by Media Molecule staff, that give tips, tricks, and insights into how to create from scratch.
Even then, though, you’ll initially make a mess of things if you’re like most people. But with time, the menus start to make more sense, and your brain starts to wrap around the needed processes. And voilà, with enough practice, the sky’s the limit.
There is absolutely no denying that the years and years of effort put into this game and its powerful tools have resulted in something pretty spectacular. Especially if players come in with a modicum of artistic skill or a love for game creation. But the question then becomes what are the other bright guys and gals out there already shaping, and what will your young gamers encounter? After all, this is something like the Wild West of game creation.
There are some frown-worthy bits to be found, for sure. Even “Art’s Dream” has some language issues, including uses of an s-word and exclamations of “d–n,” “h—” and “oh my Lord.” As I searched through other posted game levels, there were some skimpy female outfits to be found on occasion and a voluptuous Jessica Rabbit character sporting bouncy physics. And there were some rude entries, too, such as an odd gas-passing game and a censored toilet simulator. Still, every indication I got in my time with the game offerings is that the Dreams community and the Media Molecule gang are at least trying to keep things to a T-rated standard.
On the plus side, I encountered a wealth of well-crafted and praiseworthy entries. There are starship shooters; Mario-like platformers; city-builders; racing games; sports games; a T-rated, Resident Evil-like re-creation; and even an impressive, one-of-a-kind journey through Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night. The fact is, Dreams is a one-of-a-kind creation itself. And whether your creative visions are small or enormous, or if you just want to cruise through the colorful works of others, this is a game that has a lot to offer. And the quality of the games and videos are likely only going to improve.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.