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Dreams PS4 world-premiere hands-on: Finally, a good 3D take on LittleBigPlanet

Enlarge / These are the “imps” that you’ll use to manipulate worlds and objects in Dreams, whether you’re in an adventure or just goofing around in its editor mode.
Media Molecule

SANTA MONICA, California—Ten years ago, the LittleBigPlanet game series did the seemingly unthinkable for console players: it opened up the “mod and make your own games” experience that had previously been the domain of PC gaming. Its cute simplicity enabled a new audience to create (and share, via an online browser) their own 2D platform and adventure games, complete with higher-level concepts like if-then clauses, proximity triggers, and per-object logic.

In 2015, LBP‘s creators at Media Molecule announced something even more ambitious: Dreams, a game that would do the same thing for the 3D-gaming world. Use controllers like a paintbrush, toggle through coding-command menus, and create your own 3D worlds, the Media Molecule devs promised.

But thanks to a number of unclear media-event teases, we’ve gathered more questions than answers. Would Dreams really require those old, barely used PlayStation Move wands, as originally hinted during its 2015 announcement? How exactly would we build our own worlds and experiments? And would this PS4 product ever look like an actual video game?

Though it still doesn’t have a release date, Dreams finally has something that (we’d argue) is more important: actual apparent gameplay that only requires standard PS4 controls.

The tip of the imp

Much like LBP, Dreams will include a standard “adventure” full of pre-made levels, and we got to try a couple during a world-premiere hands-on event. Thanks to this new game’s 3D shift, it plays less like Super Mario Bros. and more like Super Mario 64. Though, technically, it hews closer to another N64 game: Space Station Silicon Valley. (If you missed that 1998 game, it’s okay; the weird game, made by DNA Designs, was one of the studio’s last titles before changing names to Rockstar North and moving on to the 3D Grand Theft Auto era.)

Dreams borrows from SS:SV by asking players to possess and dispossess various characters and objects in a miniature 3D world. You start as a floating “imp,” which you control by moving your DualShock 4 controller in physical space. The gamepad’s built-in gyroscope and accelerometer track your hands’ movement to guide your floating, glowing bulb-creature around, which means you do not need a PlayStation Move wand to get into Dreams.

Press R2 whenever your imp flashes to grab and manipulate non-animal objects (blocks, trees), or do the same to living creatures in order to make them run around like a mascot platformer. (My demo’s host reminded me to keep my eyes on “the tip of the imp,” which would flash when something was manipulable; this phrase never failed to make me giggle.) Possessed creatures usually come with a few button-triggered maneuvers like jumps and attacks.

Many of the levels will play out in “point-and-click adventure” fashion.

I played through a puzzle-filled level from an early part of the game. I primarily controlled an axe-wielding pig and its pie-throwing fox buddy as they ran around, bonked things, and jumped across 3D hills and platforms. (My host, a Media Molecule rep, could jump in and out at any time with her own imp.) I needed to possess a creature to move the screen around and advance in the level. Escaping the pig’s skin and returning to my imp form meant the screen would freeze—which I needed so I could aim my hands around and possess new, puzzle-solving objects. Running and jumping beyond apparent bounds, for example, would expose secret areas where I could solve hidden puzzles and unlock new assets to import into Dreams‘ creative mode. (Just like in LittleBigPlanet, these new items and assets appear as floating, icon-filled bubbles, and they function as the levels’ collectibles.)

I then saw a hint of the campaign’s other style of gameplay, which will unfold under the auspices of “Art’s Dream.” This story portion will follow a tall, skinny guitar-playing man named Art in search of his musical partner Layla (“not a love interest,” the MM rep noted), and many of its levels will play out in “point-and-click adventure” fashion. A scene will unfold, and players will move their floating imp avatars to activate objects and solve puzzles. (I didn’t get to see whether this might include an inventory system, character commands, or other classic “point-and-click” gaming elements.)