Despite the increased power of machines like the Amiga, games like Weird Dreams are still in the minority. The promises held out to gamers of interactive movies and virtual realities have, for the most part of a year that finally saw the Amiga take off, failed to materialise. Instead we've seen a steady stream of 8 bit conversions and arcade licences - not all bad, but hardly the stuff to make you lick your lips in anticipation. Weird Dreams attempts to redress the balance somewhat.
The concept behind Weird Dreams takes gaming away from cod sci-fi and sub Tolkien fantasy and steers it back to the human imagination. In this case it is journey into the subconscious mind. A lovesick character, the victim of a broken affair, falls desperately ill - so ill that major surgery is the only answer, but as the anesthetic envelops him on the operating table, with the faces of the surgical team slowly fading, he dissolves into a nightmare from which there's a good chance he'll never awake.
The ensuing game takes the form of several surreal subsections in which you control the pyjama clad character. To help him escape from the nightmare you have to collect four orbs which are deposited at various stages in the game. You materialise inside a candyfloss machine, which is where your nightmare begins. You need to collect some floss for the next stage of your trip, but if you're not careful you're likely to come to a sticky end on the giant stirrer. If you managed to make it out of the vat, you are confronted by a large wasp holding one of the orbs. If you can't get it to put it down you'll have to leg it into the relative safety of the Hall Of Mirrors. From here you can take two exits, through the mirrors Alice style - one which seems to lead to the apparent tranquility of a country garden, the other to a Daliesque landscape full of floating fish.
Weird Dreams is definitely very different, but somehow its originators doesn't carry it through fully. For all the excellent graphics, the bizarre creatures and the superb effects, the subgames offer little more than minor arcade beat 'em ups and one dimensional puzzles. That's not to say that it's an easy game, because nothing could be further from the truth. Weird Dreams is hard, but it's hard for all the wrong reasons. The game is slow - that's not just the way it I6ads each minor section from disk, or in the way the screen takes an eternity to update or scroll, but in the control of the character. The idea was to give that effect that nightmares have where things often move slowly, or your feet won't carry you away from danger quickly enough. As part of the gameplay though, it makes it hard to time your movements. Frustration too readily sinks in.
Despite its obvious difference to most games. I'd like to have seen programmer James Hutchby and artist Herman Serrano go further. The dreams just aren't unpleasant enough. If Dali was an influence as they suggest, they've sanitised him by removing the sex, the disease and the decay. It simply isn't disturbing enough.
I don't want to sound as if I hate Weird Dreams, because I don't - it's better than most of the software I've seen this year, and most of all it's original in its concept if not its execution. Graphically it's one of the prettiest games around too, but - one final gripe here - why the hell did we have to wait nearly six months for the game to be ported over from the ST?
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