It's been hard to get a grip on what Media Molecule's Dreams actually is up until now. Why does it exist? What is it? Why has Sony allowed the team to sit and tweak on this game for ages when the industry powerhouse could have spent the money on creating something new, fresh and sellable like, oh I don't know, a game about a brown-haired man in his thirties shooting bad guys and/or zombies from a third-person perspective?
In an interview, however, Media Molecule had an answer to the former question. Those of us who grew up in the '80s, especially those who happened to grow up in Europe, were not real console gamers and it was mostly home computer territory for a long time, where the C64, ZC Spectrum, BBC Micro and other variants were the bee's knees. It was also an era in which people didn't spend much on games. Instead, piracy was the way to go for many. It was also a time in which anyone could open a command prompt and start coding directly, and on essentially any system. It was a time of PEEK and POKE, where anyone could put together a horribly rough four-colour arcade port and have it published by some garage publisher. This paved the way for good things as well, such as explaining why many of today's most technically advanced games are developed in Sweden, Finland, Germany, Poland, and the UK.
Media Molecule picked up on the lacking console world of old and started brainstorming. One couldn't create something from nothing if one played games on console, with the exception of some simple level editor tools. Little Big Planet showed that console gamers also wanted to create, but in the case of Little Big Planet, players had to manipulate the platformer to make it work in a different way than was intended if they wanted to create something new. Dreams answered the call of creativity, essentially releasing as an object-oriented programming language disguised as a video game. On top of that, it lets you play around with modelling, sound editing, animating, as well as tweaking and learning the actual game engine, all of which is linked together in a cohesive way. In short, Dreams gives you everything you need to create your own models, music, cinematics - entire games. Anything, really.
This is exactly what early access dreamers have had their hands full with in the past ten months. Dreams launched today and yet there are more games than you'll ever be able to play, many of rather high quality, waiting within Media Molecule's exceptional experience. Take, for example, The Watergardens by HalfUp. It's a simplistic platformer with some puzzle-elements sprinkled on top and while it's over in half an hour, it offers thirty minutes of pure joy. Root by Japanese GK-S-, where you control a little flower fairy through charming worlds and fight some cool bosses holds up equally well. Another game coming out of Japan is Echu Meikyu 32 Omote, which has a rather complex, two-dimensional control scheme with a row of movements to master.
If you're looking for a game to play for a long time, however, we'd recommend that you try a multiplayer experience. Sumasshus' Battle Tops is essentially a 'last man standing' multiplayer game where you, controlling a spinning top, get tasked with pushing other tops off the platform until you alone spin victorious. Creigame has taken a different approach with Turn Left Duck. This little game has you control a lightning-fast duck that can only turn left as it races through courses of narrow platforms against other lefty ducks - incredibly frustrating but equally as fun.
Looking for something completely different? There are games in Dreams for everyone. Take, for example, the puzzler-rhythm game mix GridSlice by C00kedturkey, or puzzler Do Robots Dream of Electric Imps? by Slurm MacKenzie, and the souls-like Akaoni by Tototidoppa. We found so many highlights when trying out games for this review that it's hard to name them all without spending hours copying and pasting titles and in-game developers. Apart from games, you'll also find dioramas, short films and even music videos to enjoy. We even managed to create our own, Aethyr: The Cursed Ball.
There are hundreds, maybe thousands of complete games to try, and even more non-gaming experiences to check out. Media Molecule has definitely elevated the visibility of these as well, so you don't have to rely solely on chance to find something to play. All of Media Molecule's chosen experiences are definitely worth a try and some of the games we mentioned earlier fit into this category. Another way of earning visibility is through the regularly held Community Jams where anyone can send their themed creations in. Just prior to the full release the theme was fantasy, prompting us to send Aethyr in for review. If you want to play a million different variants of Sonic, you can do that as well (what's up with all these Sonic fans in Dreams?). Only time will tell how Media Molecule will tackle the copyright issues that will surely appear, but as of right now, using well-known games as inspiration seems to be a good way of getting exposure.
In early access, this game was already rather stable and complete as a creator tool and since then, updates have been made to make it even better. For example, you can now set a character to move in 2D, which makes creating 2D games a lot easier. Prior to this update, creators had to solve this manually by locking the character vertically. You can also jump between your favourite camera angles so that you don't have to move manually from one to the other. Apart from this, a new control option has been added. Dreams is, as you probably know, created with motion controls in mind, and prior, it's been crucial for the creators to have a pair of Move controllers as well as a Dualshock controller close at hand. Now, however, one can control it all with the joysticks of the Dualshock controller.
Another thing that makes the creation aspect easier is the heap of new tutorials added to the game. These start with the basics and move up to the specifics, from teaching you logical construction through to explaining how to make the eyes of your characters blink.
What else has Media Molecule done with all of this time? The games seem to have been made solely by players after all. Well, apart from making a fully functional game engine and building a massive community that has created thousands of finished projects? Well, Media Molecule's own game Art's Dream has been developed within Dreams using the same tools as the players are given. The game is phenomenal as well, mixing a bunch of different genres to accompany a well-written story. At its core, the game is a point & click adventure with platforming mixed in where we get to follow the depressed jazz bassist Art who, through reliving his childhood fantasies, tries to become a part of the band again. This game truly shows what can be created in Dreams. Without spoiling the around two-hour-long experience, it culminates in a magnificent finale that truly mixes together so many possibilities at once. It shows that the people behind Little Big Planet and Tearaway created it. The VR support for the game isn't coming just yet, but Media Molecule has held its promises so far and the dream has only just begun.
The "story mode" of Dreams was never meant to me a twenty-hour full game if anyone had that impression. Instead, it serves as an inspiration and reminds players of what Dreams is all about. We understood the core of Dreams after having played Art's Dream. The fact that the words "jam" and "remix" are used frequently when talking about Media Molecule's creation is no coincidence, neither are the themes of jazz, finding oneself and community. Dreams is jazz. Dreams is creation. Dreams is community - performing a solo every now and then while at the same time making sure the bigger symphony stays harmonic. Dreams is experimentation - hitting some bad notes but running with it. All we can do is applaud.
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