Starting in 1980, with the first graphical adventure game Mystery House, the PC market is now loaded with adventure games. The genre, however, was changed in 1993 with the arrival of the best-selling adventure game of all time, Myst. Myst started the first person casual adventure game genre and was said to be proof that video gaming had finally gotten out of its odd adolescent phase. The next trend in adventure games came in 2005 when Mystery Case Files developed the now common ‘hidden object’ puzzle genre. Blending elements of Myst and Mystery Case Files, Dream Chronicles first hit the PC market back in 2007. Now Dream Chronicles has made its way onto the Xbox Live Arcade.
The Dream Chronicles series is best described as a first person hidden object puzzle adventure game. A genre which is actually a very popular genre for the casual PC market. You play as the heroine, Faye, as she attempts to rescue her fairy husband and reverse the enchanted sleeping spell that has enveloped the town of Hope. Yes, I said fairy husband. As in the mystical creatures, which explains all the magic in use throughout the game.
Gameplay is similar to any first person puzzle game. You do not have hit points, nor even run into other characters. You will ‘click’ on different hot spots on the screen and either get a text response or add the item to your inventory. You use the inventory pieces to solve the puzzles and move on to the next area. Once you move to the next area it is impossible to move backwards. This is a double-edged sword. On one side this keeps the puzzles from being too frustrating. There is never a point where you can get stuck because you happened to miss an item, as is typically the case in adventure games. On the other hand, this makes the whole experience feel very linear - more like a gauntlet of puzzle rooms instead of a fantastical world like in Myst.
I should mention that this version of the game is exactly like the 2007 version found on the PC. The problem is that instead of the elegant mouse, you must control this game with the Xbox controller. The best I can say about this control method is that it functions. In truth, I do question if the person responsible for the conversion has ever used a console controller in their life. The left analog stick controls your mouse pointer. Yep, they didn’t even change it from the standard mouse pointer. The default speed is slow, as in it takes around ten seconds to get from one side of the screen to the other. They did allow for it to speed up if you hold down the ‘X’ button, which is reminiscent of having to hold down a “run” button in 2D Mario games. This would have been alright, but for the fact that the screen doesn’t track with the pointer. You cannot make your character walk, only look around.
In order to pan the camera to the right or left (which is important, as many puzzle elements will be hidden to the side) you must use the right analog stick. So in order to pick up an item to the far right, you must tilt the right stick, then move the left stick, moving your right thumb onto the X button to speed up, position the pointer exactly on the item, hit the A button to add it to your inventory, and finally (since all of the main puzzle areas are placed in the center) move your thumb back to the right stick and move the camera back while moving the pointer back with the left stick. It might sound like I am overstating this, but I feel it is worth mentioning because you must search each room fully or you will miss something. Even after playing for over four hours, at no point did I feel that the controls were intuitive or appropriate. An option to remap the controls would have been a welcome addition.
The entire game consists of eighteen areas. You start in the first area and must solve the puzzle within in order to move to the next area. Again, there is no backtracking, so make sure to get all the dream pieces before leaving for the next area. Oh, haven’t I mentioned dream pieces yet? Yeah, neither does the game until you happen to find one. They are tiny gems scattered in each area that you can collect for points, usually around eight per area. They are really tiny, about the same size as a pupil on your avatar. I have a 46 inch HDTV that I am eleven feet from and I could barely make these things out. It was a problem in the original PC game, but most people don’t sit more than a couple feet from their computer. Each area is a static and generally bland image with minimal animations occurring when you click on something. Don’t look for cinematics either, as any story is delivered with voiceless and pictureless text. I am aware that there was music during play, but it left so little an impression on me that the only word that comes to mind is 'bland'.
My first playthrough was around two and a half hours. The only thing to do after you have beaten it once is to try for the achievements, which involves finding all 115 of those six-pixels-large dream pieces or beating the whole game in twenty five minutes. It would be generous to say it would take someone around six hours to complete everything the game has to offer. That is, of course, including trying the co-op mode, or as I came to call it the “Relationship Tester" mode. Nothing more frustrating than constantly repeating "no, click that thing over there. Here, I'll do it" over and over again. This game will run you 800 Microsoft Points. Eight. Hundred. That translates to ten dollars or seven euros. I’ve gotten more enjoyable gameplay out of an actual ten dollar bill.
I am left confused over who they are trying to target with this game. Fans of the original will not enjoy how punishing it is to control the game with an Xbox controller, nor will they be pleased with how, beyond minor resolution tweaks, nothing in this 2007 game has been updated. Newcomers to the franchise will wonder why items are so small and hate how unforgiving the selection detection is. Hidden object games can be a pleasant group game where people work together to find the objects and having one that worked on a TV screen would be great. Dream Chronicles for XBLA isn’t even close.