I’m a sucker for old-style point-and-click adventure games. Telltale used to do them before they ventured into the storybook narrative path leaving most modern games in the genre to derive from indie developers instead. One such game is The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest from solo-developer The Domaginarium. Sticking to the good old inventory, environmental and Hidden Object puzzles, I instantly requested this game for a further look at how the game actually plays.
The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest surprisingly revolves around young Aisling and her quest to free the Dreamlands from the evil ‘Mourner’. Our introduction to the game is very short as it gets right to the point – Aisling is writing in her diary about her mother and how she just wanted to see her mother once more. It’s not explained what happened to her mother, only we know she isn’t alive. After a brief cutscene, she lays down on her bed and falls into the Dreamlands via a rather elaborate transportation method – she literally falls through the void until she gets there!
Whilst within this mystical plain, Aisling discovers that she is actually within a universe which is comprised of her dreams and nightmares. She’s also told, by a rather unusual being, that The Mourner, who is a dark entity, has begun to corrupt the land and thus Aislings own thoughts and feelings. It’s now up to our protagonist to set out and recover all three treasures and face The Mourner herself in order to defeat this evil and return peace to both the Dreamlands and Aisling herself.
More of the story is presented to you via short animated cutscenes which occur every now and again as Aisling wakes up and talks/interacts with her father. I say animated but the mouths don’t move when the characters speak, they are more like animatronic characters moving around as a voice over plays out in the background. It’s not unpleasant to watch or hard to understand and it gives more exposition into the story and our characters past.
The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest is a low-budget title from a single developer, so don’t go into the game expecting the same kind of quality from games such as Deponia, The Inner World, Dream Chapters or the Artifex Mundi titles. As such, I’ll keep the review balanced and objective but overall I did actually enjoy playing the game once I overcome the issues I had within it. So, let’s get started…
Controls-wise I actually really liked the method the developer has used. You literally have an on-screen cursor which you can move around with both sticks, the left stick moves at a normal pace and the right stick moves it around slower – for more precise movements. You can opt to either use the control sticks like this or use the touchpad as a virtual mouse – my preference was to use the sticks as the touchpad didn’t feel as precise. The cursor also auto adjusts to fit whatever you’ve hovered over – so if you’re over an item you can look at then it becomes an eye whereas an item you can pick up will be represented as a hand. Nice and simple!
The only other buttons you’ll be using is Square to bring up your journal which you complete by finding the pages, Triangle which gives you a hint (which I’ll talk about in a minute) and L1 which displays your inventory. If I’m being honest here, just taking into account the controls as a mechanic and not literally in the case of this game, I really like how the developer has opted for the simple method rather than making things too complicated or cumbersome for the average gamer.
The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest works just like your usual point-and-click adventure game, only with a few stripped back actions/issues. For starters, our protagonist doesn’t actually move. You click on the side of the screen or doorways in order to travel around the environment, but your character is just a stationary model on the screen. Even if you click to look or pick up something, there’s no movement going on at all other than the occasional background movement. This isn’t a big issue, it’s just one of the initial observations I made.
Secondly, the hint option is a little ‘picky’ at what it classes as ‘something of interest’. I’ve found that the ‘hint’ option has a cooldown of around five seconds (which isn’t indicated on screen) and it doesn’t always highlight everything which is of importance on the screen, thus stating “nothing of interest here”. For example, there are a few different types of collectables, the diary pages will highlight and show up yet the stuffed bears won’t. It also shows you what objects you can pick up in certain situations as well. Overall, I would say the hint option is a little buggy but it’s not a major issue as it’s not hard to see what items you can and can’t interact with anyway.
Thirdly, the game is very short. You’re looking at around 35-40 minutes if you play the game blind. Obviously, it will be a lot quicker if you decide to use a guide instead. If this was the first part in a series then I would be a bit more forgiving, but as a fully contained game with a start, middle and end, all within 40 minutes – it’s too short to really get stuck into the story and explore this rather interesting setting the developer has created.
Puzzles and combat?
The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest actually has a decent amount of puzzles crammed into the short running time – a lot more than I would have expected. The puzzles all vary from one another as well, with none of them being a repeat of another. However, this does lead to some puzzles standing out as being not up to the same standard as a few of the others and some being more cumbersome than they should be. One such puzzle is one of the first you come across where you need to spin three rings of a circular image to make the whole image – everyone’s seen these right?! Well, in this puzzle, it takes a very long time to rotate the pieces and you can only go one way – this means that if you press it one time too many, then you have to patiently wait as you rotate it all the way around once again. Some of the later puzzles are a bit more interesting though with only the Hidden Object ones causing an issue, as stated below.
The other mechanic I was surprised to see is a combat mechanic. Okay, it’s a very basic process which is very simplistic, but it’s not one I would have expected to see within The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest. This involves you having to fend off men in cloaks as they approach you by clicking on them with your lantern. A similar mechanic is used later on in the game as well. Like I said, nothing major but it was surprising and adds a little more entertainment into the game.
Issues in the NA version:
Personally, I had a few issues with The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest, issue which I have reported to the developer and have been advised should be resolved once the EU version is ready to distribute later this year. So, these are the things I ran into which are present as of now in the North American version yet they aren’t game-breaking (unless I state otherwise) and should be resolved before our version is released:
1. Certain scenes aren’t rendering correctly. An example of this is at one point there is a woman lay down who is completely naked. This same woman appears later on and not only is her dress ass-less but she also looks like a monk with the top half of her hair cut off like a reverse bowl-cut! It’s clear to see the issue here, the dress and hair aren’t clipping around the model correctly and is instead falling through her and thus showing her bare buttocks and perky bosom!
2. The final scene, which is a combination of still images in a slide-show fashion upon completing the game, is displayed at a much lower number of colours than the main game. I’ve been advised this was a design choice and whilst I don’t particularly like the style it has gone for – it’s been deemed not an issue and more a choice.
3. I had the game glitch on me once where the cursor would vanish off the screen, thus making it impossible to continue playing. The game also crashed twice on me whilst playing on the PS4. Again, these are issues which could affect you as or right now, but they should be resolved for the EU release.
4. The Hidden Object section has a very precise, yet off-shot, ‘hit-box’ for certain times. For example, there is a flask near the table leg, yet you can’t click on the flask to ‘find’ it, you have to move about half an inch to the left of it in order for it to let you click and pick it up. this caused me a lot of frustration as I couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t let me select the item which was clearly the right one.
Graphically, The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest is rather basic if I’m being honest. The assets aren’t that detailed and it does look like some, if not most of the assets may have been acquired rather than created. Again though, this isn’t a big issue as it’s the core gameplay that’s the most important aspect, but it is something you’ll notice as you play. I’m not a fan of the final sequence and the art direction the developer went for but I do like the varied environments and how the various locations tend to get dark and gloomy as you get closer to The Mourner.
Soundwise there isn’t much to say. There are only a few voice actors who do a decent job – some of the lines come out wooden and a bit non-emotional, but overall it’s not the worse voice acting I’ve heard in a game. The music is suitable and matches the environments and areas you’re in. Also, because there isn’t much sound other than the occasional chatter and the music, you get to hear quite of a lot of it and it never once sounded bad or repetitive – so that’s cool.
Overall, I actually enjoyed The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest, even if it was a very short experience and I had to reload the game a few times due to the issues I had with a few aspects. The story was original and the mechanics were simplistic yet accessible for everyone to just pick up and play. I’m very forgiving with games, as you may have noticed in some of my previous reviews. I’ll point out the issues I’ve had yet also overlook small inconsistencies and defects as I’m playing the game yet I’ll always make them known in my reviews. This game did have flaws and both visual and technical issues which both affected my enjoyment and my overall experience.
However, looking from the outside, the game is only five dollars in the North American store and it did give me an hour of entertainment (I missed some collectables). It’s up to you if you feel 40-60 minutes is enough enjoyment for that price, or maybe wait for a sale? Either way, I would still suggest you pick it up if you like point and click games and just want a nice easy 100% (no platinum) with an enjoyable story.
My wish would be if the developer comes back to this series at some point in the future, a bit like how Michael Hicks did with The Path of Motus, and possibly re-create the game with more story and better visuals. As I’ve said above, I really think the premise of the game is good, it’s just not been executed in the best way possible within this short game. An expanded experience showing the tragedy, more interactions within the Dreamlands, polished visuals and puzzles, and a story which spans a good 3+ hours, would certainly benefit the overall experience.
The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest is a point-and-click game in the vein of old-school adventures. Sure, it’s not going to win any awards for its visuals, but it is an enjoyable, if short, adventure game. The game is currently riddled with a few bugs and glitches which affected my overall enjoyment and entertainment but I have been assured these are being looked into as a patch once the EU version releases later this year. If you’re new to the genre of point-and-click games, The Dreamlands: Aisling’s Quest is very accessible and easy to pick up and play, just don’t expect to have an 8+ hour adventure like some of the other bigger budget titles out there today.
The Dreamlands: Aisling's Quest$4.99
- Interesting setting and story
- Very user friendly and easily accessible
- Hidden collectables to look out for
- Nice soundtrack and decent voice acting in parts
- The game is too short - around 30-40 minutes
- There were quite a few issues in this NA version (see above)
- The puzzles were too easy and some were a little slow mechanically, which made them a little annoying
- I wasn't a fan of the final scenes art style
- You character doesn't move and the 3d rendered cutscenes aren't fully animated in terms of moving mouths and characters walking about