Review: Dream Chronicles (Xbox 360)

Dream Chronicles
Developer: PlayFirst
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Genre: Hidden Items Adventure
Release Date: 10/24/2010

I was late coming into the NES era. The other kids in the neighborhood, even my cousins, had an NES the year it came out. I didn’t get mine until 1987. Up until then, I was either still picking up Atari, Intellivision, Colecovision and Vectrex carts out of the Hills Department Store bargain bins for a quarter each, or I was playing games on my Tandy 1000 EX, usually adventure games from either Sierra or Lucasoft: King’s Quest, The Black Cauldron, Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, those old classic point and click adventure titles (my favorite of that genre was and is Day of the Tentacle, though I will admit spending a good amount of time on the Leisure Suit Larry games as well when I was sure one of my parents wouldn’t stumble in on me playing them.)

Though I did dive full steam back into the world of console gaming with the NES, I never lost my love for PC adventure titles. When the CD-ROM revolution began on the PC, the very first game I bought for the format was 7th Guest. From there I went on to play Myst, Riven, Mansion of Hidden Souls for both the Sega CD and the Saturn, and even D for the Playstation and D2 for the Dreamcast, not to mention countless others, though this new 1st person style left me somewhat cold in comparison to the older, more animated and comedic titles I’d come to love so much.

So when the DHGF staff ninjas offered me a chance to review a new DLC “adventure” game for the 360, I jumped at the opportunity to see what strides the genre had made in the years since I’d last tread those waters.

I should have stayed ashore.

This game is actually the first in the series. The third title, The Chosen Child, was reviewed here for PC by A.J. a year ago, and I can tell from reading his piece that the series hasn’t come very far where quality is concerned.

The story, if you want to call it that, tells of the Fairy Queen of Dreams, Lilith, who casts a spell of sleep on the entire town of Wish, then kidnaps a resourceful fairy named Fidget. Before he is abducted, Fidget uses the last of his magic to awaken his wife Faye from the spell, and leaves her his diary as a guide to follow in his footsteps and save the town from a fate of endless sleep.

If you managed to read that without falling under the spell yourself, you’re a more dedicated gamer than I.

What I was expecting was a point and click mystery adventure along the lines of Myst. What I got instead was what research tells me was the first of the “hidden items adventure” sub-genre. Basically, you’re presented with a series of rooms or scenes. In each can be found numerous hidden items that you find by clicking on them (typically, if you don’t find them in in a given amount of time, a little visual cue, such as a twinkling light, lets you know where to click.) You then use said items to solve puzzles of varying difficulty that unlocks the passage to the next room or scene. You get to do this 18 times, and then the credits roll. Ta-dah!

Despite the 360’s graphical capabilities, this title seems to have taken a downturn in visual quality, which is especially bad considering the fact that it wasn’t that good to begin with. The scenes look fuzzy and washed out on the 360, particularly when zooming in to get a better look at your surroundings. And the bigger your TV is, the worse it looks. I played the game on my 73 inch Mitsubishi, got a slight migraine from it, then moved the 360 upstairs and tried it out on my son’s 1080p 32 inch LCD. It helped, but also made finding all the hidden items more difficult, so it was a bit of a Kobiashi Maru situation: the graphical equivalent of the no-win scenario.

The music (what little there is to be had) is bland, low key, and utterly forgettable. Try to imagine what type of mood music you might experience if Disney took your typical Halloween House of Horrors and converted it into a walkthrough experience of Tinkerbell’s Fairyland tree cottage, and you should get a good idea of what aural pleasures this game has to offer.

The controls are slow and cumbersome. You use the analog stick to move a bland gray arrow that’s far larger then most of the Crap you’re supposed to be clicking on across the screen to point and click on hidden items. The game was obviously designed with a PC mouse in mind, but to compensate for the relative lack of accuracy when comparing an optical mouse to an analog stick, the pointer has been slowed down. REALLY slowed down. As in, if your arrow is in the lower left corner, and you spot an item in the middle of the screen, it takes a good 5-7 seconds for the arrow to traverse that distance. It’s horrible, and makes each screen a slow, plodding chore to get through.

Once you find all the completely non-sensical items you’re looking for (such as a giant key stuck to the foot board of a bed that’s supposed to unlock a chest that has a keyhole clearly meant for a key one tenth the size) you’re presented with a puzzle to solve before opening the door and moving onto the next scene. These puzzles range from embarrassingly easy to controller-tossing frustration, but not because of their complexity so much as a required level of speed and dexterity that your “slower than a quadriplegic grandma” pointer cannot provide.

Once you’ve managed to slog through the 18 or so scenes that the game provides, there is very little reason to ever go back to this game, unless you’re so much of an achievement whore that you’re willing to spend countless attempts at earning the “finish the game in under 20 minutes” achievement. But if that sounds to hard for you, fear not. The developers thought of that, and included an achievement for beating it in under 30 minutes too. Otherwise, you’re likely to finish the game, feel confident that you’ve spent all the time you deemed warranted in finding Fairy Waldo, and delete it off your hard drive.

There is nothing addictive about this game in the slightest sense. When you go to the mall, and there’s a kiosk of those “find the hidden picture in the brain-frying clump of dots” paintings, do you feel compelled to go down the line and spot every hidden sailboat, flower, shark, valentine, and windmill? If so then you’ll no doubt never touch Halo or Gears again, as you’ll be too addicted to finding that last magic blue rock that you didn’t happen across during your last 60 playthroughs to ever want to go back to games that require more than staring at the screen until your eyes burst into flame.

I found only one glitch. It happened to me three times in the course of playing, which made me wonder if it was actually a feature of the title. On three separate occasions, after passing the 30 minute mark, the game simply dropped me back to the title screen with no chance of saving my progress. Is this one of the challenges to this game? Are you supposed to finish it within 30 minutes or you have to start all over? I scowled the net looking for an answer, but couldn’t find one, so I suppose it’s just another mystery waiting to be solved in the land of Fairies.

Aside from the crappy controls and ugh-res imagery, there are also some other changes I noticed between the PC and 360 version. Some of the items have been moved from their original locations. For example, in one of the earliest screens there’s a staircase with several murals of various animals at the top. One of them is a bird. I looked all over the place for this bird and couldn’t find it. So purely for the purposes of getting through the game for my review, I pulled up a guide for the PC game (I could not find one for the 360 version.) The guide stated that the bird could be found towards the top of the screen in a clump of leaves just under the set of murals. But it wasn’t there. There was, however, a water vase on the left side of the screen that didn’t appear to do anything of interest when I clicked on it. Finally, I zoomed into the image, and found the bird hidden in the background behind the vase. Well played, Clerks. Stupid, but well played.

The Scores
Story: Awful
Graphics: Worthless
Sound: Worthless
Control and Gameplay: Worthless
Replayability: Awful
Balance: Awful
Originality: Awful
Addictiveness: Worthless
Appeal Factor: Worthless
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: WORTHLESS GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary

Since this game shat itself onto the casual gaming adventure scene, countless imitators have sprung up, mostly to be found on free gaming sites like Pogo and Yahoo games. In the Spring of 2007 I spent several hours at work playing one based on the Titanic on Microsoft’s Games.Live.Com in pursuit of a free Zune (which I did indeed eventually win, only to discover that it sucked just as much as my Ipod owning friends warned me it would.) That Titanic game was more fun than Dream Chronicles, earned me a free (albeit crappy) Zune, and it was absolutely free. That should tell you everything you need to know.

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