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A memorable game for positive and negative reasons, Rainbird Softwares Weird Dreams puts the player in control of a man in a dream-filled comatose state, brought about by a revenge attack from his girlfriend, who it turned out had been an alien all along.
A puzzle game of sorts that mixes different genres, the main flaw of Weird Dreams is its over-ambition. The game must have looked brilliant on paper, to the extent that an entire unnecessary background story was written and included as a story book to accompany the game, but its poor execution results in a game thats frustrating to play and often impossible to enjoy.
On its release in 1989, the popularity of home video game consoles and computers had begun overtaking that of arcades and most of the basic game types had been established and continued. Weird Dreams isnt really a platform game like Mario Bros., but the player controls the left and right movements across the game screen of the central character. It isnt really a puzzle game like Dizzy, as the limited snappy decisions the player has to make are always the only immediately obvious course of action. It isnt really a beat-em-up like Street Fighter, but the player does have to attack rock statues with flying fish.
The main strength of Weird Dreams lies in the nightmarish and just plain weird approach of the graphics. Terrain varies inexplicably from a creepy fairground to a barren desert and an English country garden, while the enemies and obstacles encountered suit each setting perfectly, despite their oddness, although this is largely a clever use of synchronised colour schemes. Although these graphics are primitive by modern standards, the games art department make an excellent job of converting the enemy and level designs to pixel format, but its all rather basic.
The main characters movements are slowed down by the number of frames used to animate his walk, and the only movement is of the character and any enemy concerned moving left or right across a series of static backgrounds. This is where the game begins to fall apart, as the basic handling of the characters actions across the nine very limited levels requires extreme patience and immaculate precision to avoid the instant death and level reset that comes with any contact with obstacles. Even when the player knows exactly what theyre doing, it often falls down to luck due to the slow and awkward handling and response.
This unfair level of difficulty is evident right from the very beginning of the game, where the player has to climb out of an immense candy floss machine. Ducking to avoid the spinning rod is easy, but the jump upwards must be precisely calculated so that the stick is grabbed at the right time, otherwise your head is cut off. Similarly, sword-fighting with the snarling rose bushes can be a near-impossible task as not only do you have to slowly work your way through a bush that comes alive at will, but you risk getting run down by a lawnmower if youre on the screen for too long. The later levels are much easier to manage and survive in, but these first few sections cause enough frustration to put some players off for life.
Controls on the Amiga versions of Weird Dreams were standard and easy to pick up, consisting of the usual left/right/forwards/ backwards joystick actions and use of the fire button to execute actions, but the infuriating gameplay could potentially lead to the trusty joystick being mistreated and destroyed. The best way to avoid this, and perhaps the only way to ever conceivably get through Weird Dreams, was to use the helpful and fun S.O.S. cheat: positioning the character as close to the right-hand mirror as possible (without entering) in the fairground at the beginning and pressing the Amigas large Help key in an S.O.S. style, i.e. tapping it quickly three times, holding it for three longer intervals and then tapping three times again. If the cheat works, the life counter switches to an infinity symbol and now you dont have to see the depressing hospital flat-line animation ever again.
Weird Dreams was reputedly conceived for a television phone-in competition, the kind of game controlled by the shouting instructions of a child caller on Going Live, Live & Kicking and other childrens morning television, and this would certainly explain its shoddy conversion to home platforms. The game is not produced any more (neither are those home platforms) but can be found second-hand quite often, suggesting a bizarre past popularity.
The tedious puzzle platformer was perfected in the 1990s by Delphine Software with such games as Another World and Flashback, both of which share excellent graphics and frequent, instant, unfair deaths with this early predecessor. Rainbird should have cut their losses with the stupid but great-looking game and its accompanying well-written but pointless novella and just made a really good comic book instead.
The idea behind this game came from a morning television show the name of which escapes me. It was one of those Saturday things aimed at kids anyway and Weird Dreams was the phone in game which they could take part in to win prizes. Well of course, in a clever piece of marketing they packaged it up and released it in time for Christmas one year...and it still bombed because it basically sucked. The problem is with this game, is that whilst it looks very nice and has some very interesting and innovative touches, it simply isnt very playable. Its too tough at first and then too easy and you'll waltz through the later levels. You start on the operating theatre with surgeons standing over you, the heart monitor blipping away as you drift into unconsciousness...awaking inside a candy floss machine at a fairground. The stick comes around and you must time a precise jump onto it to escape(and I DO mean precise), where you will then be chased in your pyjamas by a giant wasp into the hall of mirrors where you pick your level by jumping into a particular mirror. The level are varied and equally surreal, things such as catching flying fish in the desert...and then whacking stone statues with them before they get you...yes they are alive, or running around a garden filled with man eating roses whilst a lawnmower hunts you down...hmmm. Someone obviously has a very strange mind but at least the levels are interesting. Interesting is the word however, fun to play isn't another description to be added to it. Yes the game looks very nice, the sound is good and the music suitably appropriate for each different level, but the playability is sadly lacking. Its too hard initially, everything has to be done too preeisely and one wrong move leaves you dead and back at the start. No one wants a free ride, but there is such a thing as making a game so hard that it become little more than frustrating. This game is frustrating. Then all of a sudden it gets dead easy
as if the programmers realised how hard it was and decided to give us a break - a BIG break because it becomes really easy. A balance would have been nice guys. Another gripe is that there are not that many levels to play, so once you have mastered them then that is all, there is no replay value here either. In terms of novelty then yes, this is good and it also looks and sounds very nice. But its not a good game as such and definitely not one I would recommend.