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Dreams: Spot the difference, with a difference!
As a reviewer, I’m very often on the lookout for games which give you that little bit extra to write about; I enjoy a game rich in content, packed with quirks and unique touches that make me want to describe them to others in a whimsical yet suitably informative manner. I’m also very open to trying out the more specific and genres which I once would have dismissed as (and I quote) “not having enough heads being blown off with very large guns”; the lack of shooting or violence in a game has been known to upset me. You may therefore be astonished to learn that I immediately took a shine to a game with the tender title of ‘Dreams’. Existing within what I can only assume to be an extremely specific and narrow subcategory of an already-underground subgenre of titles, ‘Dreams’ sits in well with the ‘Coma ’ class of flash games .
With my suspicions surrounding the possible content of the game already aroused to the point of my eyebrows attempting to escape my face, I took the step and cast my eyes on the main menu. I immediately discovered that ‘Dreams’ is in fact a fairly elaborate and beautifully-drawn flash-animated version of a traditional ‘spot the difference’ game, only set to background music so relaxing that it would calm Mr. T himself down and have him pitying himself instead of the ‘fool’ he so often talks about at considerable volume.
So what makes ‘Dreams’ more deserving of your time than the real-life spot-the-difference game located on the back of the box of cereal (I’ll admit, it is a children’s cereal) I ate this morning? Firstly, I’d like to draw attention to the noticeably calm and relaxed atmosphere that the game creates while you play. There’s something about the fantastical style of the artwork that fills the game with a mesmerising ambience; the occasional dark twist is created as a result of the inclusion of boldly-coloured fictional creatures and an unidentified female of enchanting presence who leads you on your journey through your dream state.
The successive images act as a storyboard which the keen observer or frequent player would have already observed. We begin with a girl in classroom, moving onto said girl asleep in classroom, going on to dream of emerald-green fields, encountering a mysterious woman in a winter-stricken tree, dangling enticingly from its branches. The images progress to flying with woman where you encounter strange creatures of various hues, and the flight is brought to a conclusion by landing and sitting on a cliff-face, overlooking a landscape that is just about invisible to the player. One could be forgiven for thinking that Danny Elfman may have had a hand in the illustration and that Enya is perhaps responsible for the music.
The actual playing of the game itself is as simple as any spot-the-difference game; in each round you are presented with a split screen of near-identical images with slight differences. Noticing the differences and clicking them with the mouse pointer is really all there is to it. The time bonus is a feature which rewards you with extra points if you managed to complete the round with noticeable haste. You also have the option of enabling the hints system, which condescendingly steps in if it thinks you are taking too much time and also deducts several points for this apparently useful service.
Guess wrongly and you will find yourself losing points, which can creep into the minus if you’re really having trouble getting the hang of not clicking when you don’t see a difference. It is of course not a difficult game, and with a title like ‘Dreams’, are you at all surprised about its relative effortlessness and the silky-smooth transition through the drawings? The game serves its purpose as a creator of simple distraction from everyday life. There are no time limits, protagonists or antagonists; just a storyboard of pleasant drawings spattered with the occasional dark twist. Fans of fast-paced gameplay or widely-accessible action genres will be disappointed; this game will make you feel like you are being slowly enveloped by a wispy cloud.
Never before would I have thought that the phenomena of dreaming during rapid-eye-movement sleep could be portrayed as anything more entertaining than simply a collection of active neurons. I’m not usually an advocate for this kind of cushy entertainment, but I found myself following the story through to its end. Some will appreciate the allusions to Alice-In-Wonderland through the unique drawing style; others will simply dismiss the game as being too easy or straightforward for their liking. Either is fine, since my will to disagree and berate people has all but evaporated since playing the game. Finally I know what it feels like to have swallowed the ‘Little Book of Calm’.