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04 September 2016 @ 02:03 pm
Game Review: Dare to Dream Trilogy  
Ah, shareware. Source of so much of my gaming in the 90s. It's how I played Castle of the Winds, Jill of the Jungle, Solar Winds, Aethra Chronicles, Doom, and a ton of other titles, a lot of which were forgettable. This one, for some reason, stuck with me. Maybe because unlike the other ones I mentioned, I never managed to beat it the first time around. I clearly remember winning Castle of the Winds 1 and spending hours grinding on the last level available before I convinced my father to send away for volume 2, which meant I was grossly overleveled for it when I finally played it and easily blew through the game, but with Dare to Dream 1 I couldn't beat it except on easy mode. As such, it remained in my memory, in the space I'm wasting by dedicating it to games I haven't beaten yet, and and so I sat down with softlykarou to play through it once I found that the whole trilogy was available online.

Abandonware is in a tricky place legally, but I don't care that much when it comes to Dare to Dream. Unlike a lot of the titles available on GOG, where it just takes some tinkering with DOSBox to get them working fine even on up-to-date systems, Dare to Dream is a Windows game. A Windows 3.1 game, and good luck getting that to run. On Windows 7 it's possible with a virtual machine, but now that I have Windows 10 I'd have to install Windows 3.1 through DOSBox, emulating an OS while I'm emulating an OS, and even then I'd have to get the files from somewhere because it's not for sale anywhere anymore. So browser gaming it is.

Just like real life.

Much to my surprise when I went to look up information about that game I remember playing twenty years ago, Dare to Dream was made by Cliff Bleszinski, who's much more famous now for Gears of War and the Unreal games, but apparently adventure games are where he got his start. The game before Dare to Dream was also an adventure game, a remade version of a DOS text adventure into a graphical style, and then after that it was all platforming and shoot-em-ups and first-person shooters. That was probably a good change, honestly, judging by Dare to Dream.

I suspect Dare to Dream is a Windows game for two reasons. The first is to make use of Windows native interface for the game interface, allowing easy placement of icons and multiple windows containing separate parts of the UI, and the second being the requirement of a mouse. You couldn't rely on early PCs having mice, which is why early FPSes didn't have mouselook and so are nearly unplayable to people used to that (including me nowadays). On the other hand, using Windows without a mouse is theoretically possible, but it's pretty unlikely that anyone would do it, so a Windows game would thus automatically limit itself to people with the correct hardware.

As for the correct wetware, that's a different story.


Dare to Dream, as the title implies, takes place almost entirely in the main character Tyler's dreams. The story is barely there, mostly just involving the his's feelings of abandonment and a few other brief details sketched out through asides in the text window on the bottom of the screen, and so the point of the game is the puzzles. And the puzzles are even more ridiculous moon logic than a normal adventure game.

You can get a hint of that in the picture above. The very first puzzle in the game involves clicking around a boat until you find the few pixels that comprise the hotspot containing the fish, picking it up, and then trying it on everything until you find out that it unlocks the door. That does set expectations for the game, but the problem I had with this is that adventure games often required bizarre leaps of logic, non-sequiturs, and endless [USE] [OBJECT] on [THING] anyway to solve, so dream logic doesn't actually make Dare to Dream categorically different than a normal adventure game. It just provides an excuse for dumb puzzles, like using a flower to petrify an evil bat, getting a rock drunk, using a key to create a wind(?) to dislodge a newspaper, spreading ashes and dust on a grave to create a mirror, or giving tree snot to a worm.  photo 3327b7f6b45a33781e80dce4e4461510-d4ipx9c.gif And all of those out of context make exactly as much sense as they make in context, so I'm not actually being misleading here.

Early on we mostly made an attempt to figure the game out together. That's why I wanted to play it with softlykarou, since an adventure game is one of the genres most suited for cooperative play as you talk about the puzzles and try to work through them. But by the third game, we were just checking off beats on the walkthrough, because nearly everything was of the "go everywhere and use everything on everything" school of puzzles. If there's no hints and no reason for a puzzle solution to work, there's no reason for me to spend much mental effort trying to figure it out.

They know the puzzle solutions and that's why they're in agony.

There's that newspaper I mentioned above, by the way. Hitting it with a shovel didn't work, climbing the tree with a bungie cord didnt' work, throwing a rock at it didn't work, but holding up a key? Oh. Of course. Why didn't I think of that?

Here is softlykarou's opinion on the game:
So I liked the first game. It was fun and I could understand the dream logic. Clues were easier to find even if things were sometimes a little too straight forward. The second game had interesting beats but the logic got a bit more twisted. By the third game, it seemed like there was no way to really figure anything out without clicking around or reading a FAQ. I really, really enjoyed the first game but the latter ones just weren't as enjoyable. I was working through the puzzles to get to the end as opposed to having a thrill of figuring out what to use.
That was basically my feeling as well. Almost all of the third game was ridiculous, with a few moments where I knew what to do, and otherwise it was wandering around and then checking the walkthrough when we got hopelessly stuck. No wonder I couldn't beat it as a child.

I think I can remember the exact puzzle I got stuck at, too. It was using the flower to petrify the bat. I couldn't use the shotgun and shoot the bat. Oh, no. The flower was the only solution.

Adventure games.  photo emot-doom.gif

This is one of my favorite screens in the trilogy.

The sound and graphics are serviceable. Unfortunately on this playthrough, the emulation meant that we didn't have any music because the emulator couldn't detect the MIDI driver, but you can hear some samples from the first game if you go to a Let's Play like this one. The graphics are a style that I unmistakably think of as "Windows 3.1," but I'm not sure that's accurate. Games like Castle of the Windows or Gazillionaire certainly have styles at least similar enough to trigger my memory, but I think it's just my personal bias. There are plenty of Windows games and Windows version of games that had different art.

Come to think of it, I think what it really reminds me of is an old Apple II adventure game look updated for Windows 3.1. Look at something like Tass Times in Tonetown or Mindshadow and I think there's a resemblance. Or maybe I'm just using my own dream logic.

They thought too hard about the puzzle solutions.

I'm glad I finished the Dare to Dream games because now I never have to play them again and can put them out of my mind. It wasn't entirely terrible, but it started with enough promise that the eventual descent into pixel-hunting annoyance felt even worse than it otherwise would have. If there had been a more compelling story to carry me through I might not have minded so much, but the games relied too much on the dream conceit to have things just happen without a reason or logic. Occasionally something would be pointed out--the newspaper was apparently Tyler's feelings about his paper route--but otherwise we were just performing bizarre tasks for an uncertain reward with nothing really to look forward to other than the next puzzle beyond that. Just like real life.  photo cripes.001.gif

I did really like playing through together with softlykarou. I'll just have to find a better adventure game for it next time!
Current Mood: frustratedfrustrated
Current Music: Erang - Hymn To My Teenage Broken Dreams