Art’s Dream is a campaign mode of sorts, but it’s more of a promise. That feels like the easiest way to explain Media Molecule’s new 2-to-3 hour game, which is packaged with the release of its new art creation/social network marvel, Dreams. You aren’t buying Dreams and Art’s Dream, you’re buying an otherworldly art set that could (and indeed did) facilitate the making of a melancholic, surreal, hopeful story made up of pieces of point ‘n’ click, platformer, twin-stick shooter, even musical theatre.
That’s the key thing to understand about this – Media Molecule took no shortcuts, and employed no cheats. If you buy Dreams, you’re getting all the tools that were used to make Art’s Dream. Having played it, that feels faintly incredible. Art’s Dream employs not just shifting game mechanics, but art styles, music genres, camera perspectives and storytelling styles. It’s a wild, weird little tale, designed not just to showcase almost everything Dreams can do along the way, but tell a new kind of story for the developer behind LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway.
To say too much would give the point away, but it’s safe to say that Art’s Dream tells the story of a tortured (and not even particularly likeable) double bass player, who’s quit his band, alienated his friends, and is now working through his various regrets. It’s by no means as heavy as that sounds – we see a lot of the lighter side of the titular character’s psyche as the game moves through its several chapters – but it’s undoubtedly Media Molecule’s most mature creation to date. There are even, whisper it, a couple of swear words thrown in there.
As Art, you play through a jazz and neon-infused noir adventure, narrated throughout. But you’ll also play as his armed childhood toys across a surreal countryside, and as an Astro Bot-like robot, D-Bug, platforming and sparking through a haunted techno-forest. You’re cycled through each type as the game goes on, the tone refusing to ever quite sit still, eventually throwing in completely new ideas just as you think you’ve gotten a handle on it.
How it actually works behind the scenes will become as much of a mystery to you as what Art’s going through here. A little sadly, Art’s Dream won’t be remixable at launch, meaning you can’t load it up in the game’s editor and see exactly how the entire thing has been put together – director Mark Healey says it would probably be a little too messy and hard to decipher for new creators, as well as allow less scrupulous users to simply repost the final level as a spoiler when the game comes out.
However, the game’s collectibles each unlock assets from the game to be used in your own creations, from background music, to props, to characters. The full version of the game also comes with creators packs for each of the game’s settings (noir, sci-fi and fantasy), which provide backdrops, architecture and more. Essentially, you could make extra levels, or new story beats, or even an entire Art’s Dream 2, if you so wished.
But Media Molecule would prefer that you learned from Art’s Dream. To my knowledge, it’s the most polished final product on Dreams right now, but it’s by no means streets ahead of what’s already been created by the Early Access community. I have no doubt that the developers would actively like creators to end up making Art’s Dream look basic by comparison, a start point rather than the finishing line for the kinds of games Dreams can create.
That’s why Art’s Dream is primarily a promise. It’s a promise from Media Molecule that you can make truly impressive, professional standard art inside Dreams; it’s a promise that the more work put in by the community, the more impressive that work will become; and for those who want to just play through what others make, that Art’s Dream is just the tip of the iceberg.
Art’s Dream will arrive with the full Dreams release on February 14 – or, if you’re an Early Access player, you’ll receive it with the full version on February 11.