Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

Last week was a high point for the gaming industry this year, as we were treated to Summer Game Fest and E3. As well as having an excellent showcase during the E3 event, Xbox are treating us to some game demos. These are available to play until June 21st, and there are some really fun entries such as Tunic and BattleCakes. Unfortunately, not all the demos can be a success, and Dreamers missed the mark for me. I really hate giving bad reviews, as I know how much effort game development takes, and I don’t want to be the one to tear down all their hard work. If the developers are reading this, I’d advise you to stop now as I don’t want to hurt your feelings. Here are my first impressions of the Dreamers demo.

Story

The game actually opens quite strongly, with a cute little cutscene introducing the story. It’s not animated, but there’s a sweet picture of a drone flying towards a lighthouse. There’s spoken narration as well as having the words written below the picture so players can read along. It sets up this island as some forgotten place far from the mainland, and it has a peaceful vibe to it. When the cutscene is over, we start in our character’s house, where the drone has crashed through the window. There’s a letter attached, and this was the first and only time that I felt in any way interested or curious.

First impressions Dreamers demo cutscene
This looks like a page from a storybook.

The letter is from his grandma, who’s inviting him to come to her house for some birthday cake. A pretty normal request, right? Apparently not, because this is the basis for our quest. You see, the letter has no address, and this is a big problem for our character. Why? Because this ungrateful boy has no idea where his grandma lives! He didn’t even know it was her birthday! How many years has it been since he’s seen her? Has he ever seen her? If he hasn’t, then why is she inviting him over for cake after all this time? Also, how old is this boy? He dresses like a 12 year old, but he lives alone, so he’s got to be at least in his late teens. Where are his parents? Is he an orphan? I have so many questions!

Dreamers never been off the island.
How is visiting your grandma considered ‘a situation like this’?

Unfortunately, I never get answers. Whilst the demo is incredibly long, the story never progresses as we just end up doing a bunch of irrelevant errands for people, and the game ends once we finally fix the boat and get ready to go to the mainland.

Gameplay

I cannot begin to explain how monotonous 90% of the gameplay is. I would have quit out of boredom after about 10 minutes if it weren’t for the fact that I was committed to writing this review. The one positive thing that I will say is that the movement is pretty smooth. You can also adjust the camera angle to wherever you want it, and it’ll stay there, as opposed to some games where the camera bounces straight back to behind the character. I appreciate this level of control. At first, I thought the movement speed was decent. However, once you take into account all the back and forth you need to do, it’s not fast enough. It’s such a slog traipsing all over the place with nothing else to do, you can’t even jump. I wish people would stop creating 3d adventure games where you can’t jump.

I lost count of how many times I had to walk back and forth across this place.

The world is pretty sparse as it is, and this is compounded by the fact that you can’t interact with anything. This framed my first impressions of the Dreamers demo, and made an already boring experience even worse. Even items that are actually necessary can’t be collected until you reach that particular quest. Some of my early issues stemmed from the fact that I had no clue where to go. I only found out when I paused the game to take a breather, and realised the pause menu was actually a map. This could have been solved so easily by a note at the start saying how to access our map and quests. However, even with the map, it gets to a point where objectives aren’t marked on the map. Instead, you have to wander slowly around, slowly losing your will to live.

Dreamers map
It would be convenient if the map showed my location, but it’s still pretty decent.

The Puzzles

At its core, Dreamers is a puzzle adventure game, a genre which I usually enjoy. Where Dreamers fails is that the pacing is completely off. You have to move all over the island, and that just isn’t a pleasurable experience. The game uses the chain of deals trope, although not exclusively. You want the pirate to help you find your way to the mainland, but he needs the fisherman’s boat, but the fisherman needs you to fix it, and so you need planks and nails, but the repairman will only help if you find his wife’s escaped chicks, but you’re still missing one so you need to paint it, but you need to get a bucket in order to carry the paint… You get the idea. I would actually quite like this puzzle style if it weren’t for the hassle of trying to find everything.

Yes, I did pour paint over a bird to make it look like a chick.

The puzzles aren’t particularly tricky, a lot of it just involves trying to remember where you saw things. I really wish you were able to collect the necessary items when you first encountered them. There could then be an option to choose which item to select when talking to the person who gave you the quest. As it is, it’s unnecessarily time consuming. The hardest part is finding where you’re meant to go next after doing everything necessary for a particular side quest. At one point the fisherman just wanders off, and you have to go through the same boring dialogue with the other characters until you find someone who knows where he is. I will admit I enjoyed the fishing mini-game. It wasn’t amazing and I didn’t fully understand it, but it was a marked improvement on the rest of the gameplay.

It took me so long to catch an actual fish instead of junk.

Graphics

This is truly where my first impressions of the Dreamers demo tipped heavily towards the negative. Aside from the cutscene, the art style is what I can only describe as lazy. I get minimalism as a design, and I like it… This is not minimalism. This is cutting corners. They could have chosen something sleek and easy, without trying to push too hard. Instead, we get an isometric approach that looks unfinished rather than deliberate. It’s the worst inside the house at the start of the game, the outside at least has some colour to distract from the laziness of the shapes. I completely understand that indie studios don’t have the means to create visually impressive games, but then they shouldn’t try. They should choose an art style that works for their budget, instead seeming like they tried too hard and then ran out of time or money.

First impressions Dreamers demo bad graphics
This is so unappealing to look at. Also, this guy lives on an island, why’s he so pale?

The character models are the worst part. They stand very unnaturally, and they don’t even have faces. This looks unfinished rather than deliberately stylised. I suppose where they’re moving around, it’s harder to render more detail. They also cut corners with some of the objects. The physical boundaries don’t always match the visual ones. Sometimes you’ll try to walk forwards and be blocked by thin air, other times you’ll walk straight through a bush, or even solid metal. When you stand still there’s quite a lot of camera drift, but I’m unsure whether this is intentional. There are ladders that you can’t climb, and this bothers me because then why draw them in at all? However, I do like the use of colour outside. It really conveys the island feel, and honestly the art style is somewhat charming when viewed statically rather than an area I have to constantly explore.

Dreamers physical boundaries
Here I am stood inside a propeller because they didn’t give it a physical presence.

Audio

I’m really trying to understand the developers’ logic with this one. You have a sparsely populated island in a low quality art style, and you need to make people want to keep playing. The gameplay and graphics won’t capture people’s attention, so it comes down to the music. What do you go with? A peaceful island tune to fit the atmosphere? An upbeat melody to hype the player up? Nope. They apparently thought the best thing to do was have almost complete silence with very faint white noise. Music would play intermittently after about 5-10 minutes of nothing. But the tune sounds like if you had a piano in the lobby of an old people’s home, and you allowed the residents to play it every now and then. And yet, I longed for that sound. Anything to break the monotony of silence.

The loading screens were at least pretty.

The initial cutscene uses a spoken narrator, and he has a really smooth cadence. However, the problem is that he sounds a little bored with what he’s reading, and I’d have preferred to hear a bit more enthusiasm in his voice. The dialogue in the main game isn’t spoken, but worse than that, there’s an annoying humming sound effect. Anything would’ve been better than that. Total silence would have been better than that.

Admittedly, the music on the front menu screen is actually pretty good. It’s tuneful and has a slightly eerie quality to it. Why couldn’t they have played that throughout the game? The front menu also has very realistic footstep sound effects that create ambience. Honestly, the menu screen is a great showcase of what the demo could have been. I really hope the full game considers using the music from the menu.

First impressions Dreamers demo menu screen
Ah, back when I had such high hopes for the game.

Overall

Much as I wanted to like this game as I love to support indie studios, I just really didn’t. I found it boring, and finishing it was a matter of pride. I wanted to prove that I couldn’t be defeated, and when I finally got the screen for the end of the demo, it felt like I’d truly earned it. The game wasn’t all bad; there were a couple of moments that I enjoyed, such as figuring out certain puzzles. I just really wish it hadn’t felt so empty, and that the graphics and audio had been better. Who knows, maybe the full game will fix these issues? On the whole, though, my first impressions of the Dreamers demo were overwhelmingly negative.

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Dreamers Demo

5.4

Verdict

5.4/10

Pros

  • It's a long demo so you can really see the game
  • I like the art style on the front menu
  • Nice use of colour on the island

Cons

  • Lazy, unfinished art style
  • Poor audio
  • Gameplay is slow and boring
  • Don't feel invested in the game

By Screen Hype

Hi! I'm Melika Jeddi, a content writer and aspiring author. I've created Screen Hype to share my unique brand of entertaining articles with the world, and to create a fun space that everyone can feel a part of :)

2 thoughts on “First Impressions: Dreamers Demo (Xbox One)”
  1. Hi Melika, finally a complete review of this demo of mine. I am Luca the developer of DREAMERS and I enjoyed every single paragraph of your review. Thank you!
    I decided to participate in this Summer Demo Fest exactly to have constructive reviews like yours while the game is still in development.
    As you can imagine, the island is not the full game. It is a small introduction of what DREAMERS has to offer with the first character of the game. I like what you wrote about having many questions and I can’t wait for you to see what I am planning with the narrative of this game.
    Obviously, I don’t want you and other players to get bored with it, so now that I have your feedback I can implement some adjustments to make the experience more engaging.
    DREAMERS is an adventure game with fetch quests, narrative, puzzles, split-screen levels and mini-games, all developed in the last 25 months or so. During this period I may have lost the way in some parts, but now I am full of ideas to implement.
    Thank you for pointing everything out!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Luca, and I’m really sorry my review of the demo couldn’t have been more positive.

      I’m really glad that you found my feedback useful, and I wish you the best of luck with the game 🙂

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