Dreams Review

Sony's sleeping giant.

Dreams is peak Media Molecule. Since launching the LittleBigPlanet series back in 2008, the British studio has been revered for its whimsical, crafty approach to game development. Or, more specifically, how these games try and turn us from passive players into creators, shapers, and makers.

In many ways Dreams feels like an evolution of that philosophy, leaving behind the side-scrolling platformer trappings of LittleBigPlanet for something far more freeform. Compared to Sackboy’s sandbox, the toolset Media Molecule gives you in Dreams is so vast and complex it mimics many of the same functions as Unreal, Unity, and other game development suites,  but it aims to be far, far more accessible.

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Although this latest PlayStation exclusive is really still in its infancy, we’ve already seen an influx of wild, bizarre, and technically-impressive creations. And they’re not all games: Dreams can be used as a canvas for artwork, sculptures, music, and animation as well.

It’s a one-of-a-kind experience for Sony’s home console, but also one that most gamers may have a hard time wrapping their heads around. When Dreams launched in early access a year ago, it was even tougher to decipher, being unable to really see what its tools had the potential to create beyond a small stable of pre-made mini games.

Art’s Dream has been introduced in the full version of the game, demonstrating exactly what can be done in Dreams. A super-stylish, genre-hopping adventure that sees a jazz musician getting lost in a shifting collage of memories while on a road to redemption and self-acceptance. One moment you’re playing a traditional 3D platformer, the next it’s more of a point & click adventure, then a shoot ’em up, as it jumps from one genre and set of characters to another.

Impeccably produced by the masters of their own domain, Art’s Dream has that unmistakable Media Molecule twang about it and while it only clocks in at a few hours, it’s a triumphant demonstration of what can be done using the game’s tools. It will surely inspire others to take on similarly ambitious projects.

Creating or “Dreamshaping” may seem like a daunting venture, though Dreams eases you in with a series of gradually more complex tutorials, starting with the very basics (such as placing, moving, and sizing objects) before branching into various disciplines. There are hours of learning materials readily available in the game, but you’ll also be able to find plenty of user tips and how-to videos being shared by the community.

The tutorials themselves are super informative and have a game-like structure to them which definitely helps make them engaging and understandable. You’ll employ a growing number of tools to help Connie in each scenario from sculpting platforms and animating characters to colouring scenes and adding your own flare. A video guide will hold your hand through each lesson, which is easily the most intuitive way to digest each new nugget as you apply what you’ve learned in real time. However, the more advanced tutorials can be very demanding and unless you plan on entrenching yourself within Dreams some of that knowledge may begin to slip away. Even if you’re a diligent student, that may not help you when staring at a blank canvas – after all, creativity comes from within.

Thankfully, you don’t have to start from scratch. One of the game’s highlights is the ability to share assets over the Dreamiverse – building blocks include environments, music tracks, and characters – some of which have had extensive work done to them. For example, if you want to create a racing game, but haven’t got the foggiest idea (or, let’s be honest, the time) to figure out the physics and handling of a vehicle, you can rely on a legion of creative strangers to help you out. What’s more, you can take these creations and make tweaks before sending a remixed version back into the aether.

Although it’s arguably the game’s nexus, you don’t have to touch the creation tools at all if you don’t want to, and we wouldn’t blame you. Getting a grasp of how Dreams works is immensely fun and challenging, but fairly consuming at the same time, especially if you let your imagination run free.

That’s where DreamSurfing comes in. Thankfully, there is so much user-created content out there already (whether new or updated from early access) that you can get lost for hours at a time. Since early access started in 2019, my preferred way of interacting with Dreams is by using it as a sort of YouTube for bitesize video games. There’s even an autoplay-like feature built in, allowing you to shift from one dream to the next without needing to dig through menus.

As time has gone on, Media Molecule has become much better in curating this vast web of content. Aside from cherry-picking community highlights, there are playlists which surface trending creations with simple search tools available to find specific users or projects you may have spotted elsewhere. This spills over onto the web – head to indreams.me to browse and queue up creations – meaning you can keep up to date even when not in-game.

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Summary
Taking Media Molecule's creative ethos to new heights, Dreams is a PlayStation essential. Booting the game up each time and having no idea what awaits is an intoxicating feeling. A remedy, forcing me from the rut of my predictable gaming habits to explore an inner creativity I’m often too lazy or wound up to let free.
Good
  • Robust creation tools with boundless possibilities
  • Intuitive learning resources
  • A constant flow of wild, often amazing user creations
  • Even more ambitious features in the pipeline
Bad
  • More Media Molecule content wouldn't go amiss
  • DreamShaping can be as daunting as it is exciting
9
Written by
Senior Editor bursting with lukewarm takes and useless gaming trivia. May as well surgically attach my DualShock at this point.

6 Comments

  1. A good summary of the game thanks. My copy arrived this morning and both kids have enjoyed playing around with it as have I. Whether it lasts for them or me is a separate issue but I felt obliged to purchase it to support local studio and their level of commitment.

    Funnily enough my son has been talking about game design for ages and then I saw this had been released. I’m a little out of touch with new releases etc these days but was very surprised how little hype / fanfare it got (unless I missed it all).

    We’ve only been messing around with it and going through the tutorials so far (not looked at Arts Dream yet but will do) but I just loved the texture tutorial for Connie’s house so much I played that twice! Also after the kids had gone to bed I mooched around the community crafted dreams and am not ashamed to admit that I stumbled across a remake of P.T. and like the original version, I couldn’t finish this one either such was my gut wrenching fear so I left some positive feedback, a thumbs up and ran away as fast as my virtual legs would carry me.

    The depth of the creation tools is genuinely astounding and to be honest I’ll likely only create a few items and check out the community stuff but I love MM for doing this stuff and Sony for supporting them. If the support from the community and Sony (esp if it carried over to next generation) lasts then I can see great things for the game and really believe that it will get some folk through doors into game design / development that they would not have otherwise been able to. Massive kudos to all involved!

    • Great to hear that you’re all having such a good time with it.

      I can definitely see younger aspiring game developers getting really attached the creation tools here. They get pretty complex at the deep but there’s no need to wade that far in if you just want to have a bit of fun.

      The skills you can develop learning with these tools will also be transferable to other game development software suites. Not directly, but the same staples are all there.

      More importantly, Dreams has the potential to unlock creativity in its players. I wish I had something this dynamic to play around with a decade ago but I’m equally as satisfied diving in every couple of days to sample what the community has been making.

      • Indeed. When I was a wee lad we had Degas Elite Art Studio (or something like that on the Atari ST). Amazing for its time but about as powerful as an Etch a Sketch now compared to the likes of Dreams. It truly is a golden age for video gaming (less said about social media etc the better).

  2. Discovered one little thing that (a) could be improved, and (b) demonstrates they’ve done a great job in the first place.

    It needs more order to the tutorials. Some of them ideally need you to have done some other ones first. But at the same time, if you haven’t, it’s all actually remarkably easy to get the hang of. And actually, rather than sit there getting bored because I know how to do that step, I had an extra look at all the options available. Didn’t just plug the required bit in and get on with it.

    It was the tutorial where you give Connie a slam attack. Hadn’t done the tutorials about keyframes, but it’s incredibly obvious how they work. Which then leads to you thinking that it’s a bit simple, and how could you improve on it?

    So don’t just rush through the tutorials. Spend time looking at all the available options and think about what they could do. Knowing what you could do is at least as important as knowing how you can do it. Possibly more important. If you don’t know how to do something, you can always look it up (hover over anything and it gives you helpful tips), but if you don’t know you could do something, you’re not going to get as far as looking up how to do it.

    Generally, I think the tutorials are at just the right level. The basics are all explained, but it’s not assuming you’re an idiot. A few points where you’ll be thinking “I know what to do here! I’m clever!”, but rarely “come on, get on with it! I know this!”.

    I think it’s absolutely right that a “game” about making things ends up making you think about how they’ve made it and how it tries to teach you.

  3. Great review Jim, i picked up Dreams having never created anything in LBP. I was really hoping that the music editor would be accessible and comprehensive. Well, it’s not only delivered on that score but having done a few of the basic tutorials i found myself encouraged to start making visuals to go with my audio tracks. Starting small is the probably best way to get into Dreams, learn some basics, use those basics to create something, then build on and enhance your creations as you acquire new skills in further tutorials.

    It’s incredibly enabling for anyone with a desire to do some digital painting/sculpting/animation/game-creation/music/short films from their armchair rather than a more rigid workspace environment. It’s way more accessible than you might expect but the bigger the project, the more time will be required to not only make it all work but to also polish it so it is appealing to play in the long term.
    VR is going to add another layer to everything but as it is, Dreams has the legs to keep it running for some time yet!

  4. Dreams was featured on Click (BBC News channel) over the weekend which said it’s a great tool to get kids (and others) into game creation etc. The reporter spoke to a bloke, a teacher, who took part in the early access, Media Molecule were so impressed with his creations they offered him a full time job.

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