Dreams are a wonderful journey to a beautiful and magical place where our imaginations lay down the rules. They can also be a place of utmost terror where your greatest fears are laid before your eyes. Whichever experience you have, it is your subconscious trying to make sense of something playing on your mind.
This is the main premise of Dreaming Sarah by the developers Asteristic Game Studio and publishers Ratalaika Games. A side-scrolling 2D platform title that ventures into the realms of the surreal, you will; leap, fall, shrink and solve puzzles, all while trying to figure out the world you now exist in.
It’s an odd, dreamy realm.
The game begins with our female protagonist waking on a lush grass bed. From here you are free to choose your path and how you wish to progress. Obstacles will prevent you accessing areas, and magical items must be collected to overcome them. Each of these objects form a piece of the puzzle that is Sarah’s mind. If you fail to collect them all, you cannot reveal the true meaning of our heroine’s dreams.
These items are truly bizarre, but once you finish the game, their odd status becomes clear. You will find; an umbrella to float, a pill to return you to the start, glasses to see the invisible and more. Each has a Through the Looking Glass feel to them and help to add depth to this strange dreamlike experience.
The freedom to move around the game with little guidance was confusing, but it emphasises the fleeting nature of the sleeping mind. The deeper you explore, the more sinister the atmosphere becomes. It quickly dawns on you that perhaps there is more to this than originally assumed. I for one was desperate to get to the end, I wanted to know if there was a greater meaning to this. This is how you will feel, and you’ll want to find all the objects to unlock the ending.
A game to play in one sitting.
You have little control over the recording of your progress, and you will search for it to save if you wish to take a break. This wasn’t so much of a problem as sections are relatively small. However, each time you load back in, you revert to the lush grassy bed. This was particularly irritating when you had stopped near the end of a section and had to redo all the work that had then been undone.
This mechanic reinforces the repetitive nature of dreams, but forces you to consider a one sitting playthrough. This isn’t an unachievable task, as a run will take approximately 2 to 3 hours if you don’t use a guide. Your journey will take you across some weird and wonderful landscapes; an eerie mansion, a blackened room with overseeing eyes, a spaceship that takes you to an alien bar, a lava filled volcano and more. It’s fantastically bizarre and will have you wondering what the heck you’ve got yourself into.
Simple pixel sprites.
Pixel graphics are synonymous with the indie world. But the standard varies. Luckily, Dreaming Sarah falls into the better end of the scale. It has well detailed sprites and nicely designed landscapes. The developers combined this with an interesting use of colour and tone to give the game a dreamy ambience. The variety of different backdrops made this both an enjoyable and odd title to look at. Every element of the art style worked well with the surreal theme.
This dreamlike realm has been enhanced with a soft, haunting audio that plays throughout. The gentle sounds while away in the background, reinforcing the developer’s ideas. It’s a well paced soundtrack that shows the lethargy of this bizarre dream world. The minimalist sound effects allow you to focus your attentions on the odd story, and the fine combination of music and simple imagery.
Easy to play platformer.
Platform games have got a reputation of being simple to pick up, but frustratingly difficult to master. Fortunately, Dreaming Sarah doesn’t follow this trend. The platform element allows the story and puzzles to take a front seat, meaning the difficulty is entry level, and will challenge no one. Sadly though, the actions are slow to respond, and the use of a radial submenu for the gathered objects was a bit fiddly. As the game is slow-paced, this doesn’t impact it at all, but it’s a noticeable issue, and should have been tightened up before release.
This isn’t a game that you will play for days on end, nor is it one where you’ll lose hours of your life. If you have a good mind for puzzles, and you get lucky, you will have this completed in a few hours. For the short time you spend with this, you will have an enjoyable and strange experience that is not found in other titles. A small achievement list will be mainly unlocked through natural progression, but some can be missed meaning some replay value can be had.
Odd, but enjoyable.
As you delve further into your run, you will wonder what you are playing. This thought soon passes and you will love the odd atmosphere and surreal imagery that is presented. The unveiling of the true nature of this story doesn’t come clear until the very end, so I suggest keeping with it. At around £4 it’s great value for money, so I suggest buying it here! Can you help Sarah walk through her mind and piece together the objects that stop her waking? Traverse many surreal landscapes, solve the puzzles and awaken from your slumber.