Dream Chronicles Review
There was a time when the adventure and puzzle genres were big. They were always most popular and most successful in the PC realm but with the advent of full digital games for consoles, we’re starting to see many such productions on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. Dream Chronicles, which debuted on the PC back in 2007, launched on the XBLA on October 30, and recently released on the PSN on November 23. It’s an old-school, hidden-object, puzzle-oriented game that sits in a standard first-person view and the player must peel his eyes to locate necessary items. The puzzles are the focus but there’s always plenty of “spotting;” i.e., “Where’s Waldo” or those more intricate puzzle books where you must find various items amidst a chaotic blend of diverse objects. It can be fun…sadly, it really shows the genre’s age.
Admittedly, the graphics aren’t really a big problem. In fact, they’re bright and vibrant, and loaded with a lot of intricate detail, which of course is necessary for the hidden object setting. There’s a fair amount of variety, necessary and optional objects in the background will sometimes emit a helpful glint, and the colors remain rich and satisfying throughout. Obviously, it’s not designed to compete with big-budget productions and indeed, even the soft, mostly attractive palette does get a little tiresome after a while. There are a few minor special effects that try to spice things up, but there’s virtually no animation and no movement to speak of, which makes it feel like hunting through a static image, over and over. This is sort of the point but even so, I kept thinking that more could be done.
The sound is even simpler, in that it features a decent albeit repetitive soundtrack, and a few tiny effects that go along with your puzzle solving. There are no voices and while the audio has this pleasant resonance, its appeal begins to wane. In this way, it’s a lot like the visuals; they’re nice, but not a heck of lot is happening, and there seems to be a lack of dynamic interaction. I understand the purpose of such games; I understand it’s not about flash and panache. But in order for this product to compete against the rest of the digital world – which has advanced at a very rapid rate – we needed…well, more. It’s too easy to miss many of the hidden objects, especially the Dream Pieces, and that attractive surface is all we have. We have no substance beneath; both the audio and graphics fail to impress, even from an adventure/puzzle standpoint.
The game consists of 18 chapters, each of which have 1 or 2 screens apiece. In each screen, there is a combination of object hunting and puzzle solving: usually, you have to locate necessary objects first, and then solve the puzzle that will allow you to progress. For instance, you will come across a screen where you must find a key, and you’re given the hint that the pet dog, Bobby, may have buried it. On the screen is the door that is locked (the goal), a rope ladder hanging against a tree, some bare earth, a doghouse, a well, and a variety of other small things. First, you must locate the shovel, scissors and the pail. Then, you have to find the “loose earth” as opposed to “solid earth;” you dig a hole and find the key, but it’s encrusted with dirt and must be washed off. Well, you have a pail but how do you lower it into the water? Well, you need the crank and a rope…and that rope ladder will do. Just use the scissors. You get where I’m going.
Each screen will take a good deal of time to conquer, especially if you’re not really good at puzzle games, and are impatient. You’ll get some puzzles that will click in your head almost immediately, while others might stump you for a good 15-20 minutes. It all depends, really. Many of the puzzles are ingeniously designed and that is clearly the highlight of the game, and the main reason to play through it. Also, those who really enjoy hidden object adventures will have a blast searching about for those Dream Pieces. There are quite a few scattered throughout each screen and any you find will be added to your diary; there are 115 all told and chances are, you won’t get them all your first time through. Unfortunately, they don’t really do anything; they mainly exist just for the sake of having them. They don’t play into the story at all but then again, the story doesn't matter much.
You play as Faye, and you’re on a quest to save your husband (Fidget) who has been taken captive by the evil Fairy Queen of Dreams, Lillith. In each screen, there’s something mystical about the scenario; like the room where you must find family photos, arrange them on the wall, open the piano (which is a process in and of itself), and copy the tunes played after clicking on each picture. The foundation for a great adventure/puzzle experience is there. But it all just sort of fizzles before it gets started. Items will sort of randomly pop up after certain things happen on a screen; in that room with the piano, for example, the crowbar you need to pry up one of the floorboards doesn’t even show up until after you’ve located the pictures. So it can be extremely difficult to figure out what to do next, and it gets immensely frustrating.
Then there’s the very small size of many of the objects, especially the Dream Pieces, which are no bigger than any given stone or pebble. They’re colorful but given the vibrancy and lushness of the environment, they tend to blend in terribly. Furthermore, as this appears to be a direct, no-frills port of the 2007 PC game, we have to guide an arrow around the screen with the PS3 controller…and that just isn’t much fun. And it really doesn’t help that the arrow has to be perfectly positioned to select a particular object. There were many times when I got stuck, not because I didn’t know what to do, but because the game wouldn’t let me do what I wanted, telling me my action couldn’t be done. You know, just because the arrow was off by about one-tenth of a nanometer. Lastly, while many puzzles are beautifully arranged, others are just plain senseless and unfulfilling.
Nothing really seems to happen as you play. The story is sort of there but doesn’t really mean much, and you’ll be done with the single-player playthrough in maybe three hours or so (depending on your skill and “spotting” ability). There’s a two-player co-op option but that’s just double the annoyance, as two people now have to place their cursors exactly correctly, time and time again. This is the epitome of a game that shows its age very, very quickly, and although I’m a big advocate of anything that promotes patience and thinking, it’s tough to recommend an experience that can often be irritating and highly unsatisfactory. That all being said, I need to say this- I liked playing it. I really do like the patient, thinking part and always have. I really became absorbed for a little while and wanted to keep playing, which is usually a good sign. But there are three huge caveats:
1. I know I’m in the minority. I know most hardcore gamers probably won’t care in the slightest. 2. I kept playing despite the frustration factor; most wouldn’t find much enjoyment in that. 3. I can’t go by my own personal opinion; critics must determine whether or not he or she thinks other people would enjoy playing it. …and I know that if I recommended the game, most would come away disappointed they had spent the money. The PC game was a Zeeby winner for “People’s Choice Award For Best Hidden Object & Adventure Game.” But it doesn’t hold up well in 2010 and if this genre is to have any future at all, it needs a big ol’ update.
The Good: Some very clever puzzles. Rich, colorful backdrops. Intuitive combination of puzzle solving and object finding.
The Bad: Control via pad/arrow cursor isn't great. Illogical, obscure puzzles. Huge visibility problem. Limited viewpoints. Extra collectibles (Dream Pieces) serve no purpose. Co-op seems a little silly.
The Ugly: Sitting there, trying to find the tiniest object imaginable on a large picture.
12/4/2010 Ben Dutka