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Weird Dreams (Classic Game)
Member Name: Frankingsteins
Weird Dreams (Classic Game)
Date: 22/01/06, updated on 22/01/06 (3167 review reads)
Advantages: Looks lovely
Disadvantages: Handles horribly
A memorable game for positive and negative reasons, Rainbird Software’s ‘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 that’s 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 isn’t 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 isn’t 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 isn’t 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 game’s art department make an excellent job of converting the enemy and level designs to pixel format, but it’s all rather basic.
The main character’s 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 character’s 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 they’re 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 you’re 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 Amiga’s 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 don’t 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 children’s 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.
Summary: Released on Amiga 500, 500+, 600 & 1200 by Rainbird Software (1989)
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