Dream Day: First Home (PC) review
"Dream Day: First Home is actually quite simple in design. The bulk of the game plays like someone ripped a page out of an old issue of “Highlights for Children” magazine and made it interactive. Stages provide a series of pictures—lovingly rendered scenes taken from a 'first home' and local supply shops so that they fit the overall theme—and from there you have to find items from a list before the timer expires."
If you look through my apartment right now, you'll find an embarrassing collection of Snapple bottles, old game cartridges, boxes still unpacked from a recent move, kettles and junk mail. It's all strewn about haphazardly over tables, chairs and the floor. The casual visitor would certainly leave my abode thinking that I'm a horrible housekeeper and that a tornado has just come through to boot. The first point is true and the second might as well be, given how disorganized everything has become. The end result is that even though the houses in Dream Day: First Home are clearly designed to look like a total disaster (how's that for a sloppy transition?), they look a step up from what I wake up to each morning.
You're reading a review of the game, though, not of my life. So we'll put aside my ill-maintained apartment for a moment and shift our focus instead to Jenny and Robert. They're the lead characters in Dream Day: First Home, the same two people casual gamers may have gotten to know in Dream Day: Wedding and Dream Day: Honeymoon, the first two titles in what has (with this newest installment) become an unlikely trilogy.
Jenny and Robert fall a little short of avatars when it comes to Dream Day: Honeymoon. You hear their names a few times--in letters they've written that preclude certain stages, and in the opening and closing segments--and there are little plot bits throughout (where you can choose the events that transpire, similar to a “choose your own adventure” tale). Otherwise, they're no more visible than a fly on the wall. That's not a bad thing, though, since the game doesn't falter and in fact seems to play better when you can forget about the two protagonists altogether.
Dream Day: First Home is actually quite simple in design. The bulk of the game plays like someone ripped a page out of an old issue of “Highlights for Children” magazine and made it interactive. Stages provide a series of pictures--lovingly rendered scenes taken from a 'first home' and local supply shops so that they fit the overall theme--and from there you have to find items from a list before the timer expires. Typically, you'll have three pictures to sort through (barring 'crisis' stages where you have a severely diminished timer and only one image to scour). A stage might give you 12 minutes to find 50 key items between the lot of them, and you can shuffle from one picture to another as feels appropriate.
The tension in the game comes from the fact that you don't necessarily know what each object might look like. Instead, you'll read a name on a list and have to guess as you scrutinize each detailed environment. Sometimes, you're left in the dark entirely, since you might be looking for a 'caterpillar' and it could take one of a few different forms. Sometimes it's the standard insect. Others it looks like a little plastic toy. Then there are ducks, which could be black silhouettes serving as part of a 'duck xing' sign or the actual waterfowl swimming across a pond. Finally there are those objects that really are open to context, like a 'bat' that you might reasonably expect to be either a piece of sporting equipment or the cave-dwelling mammal.
Another concern is the timer, which initially feels laughably generous but quickly becomes a threat. It can sometimes cause things to get quite stressful, which of course isn't conducive to a “search and find” excursion. The more stressed you get, the less likely you are to find good fortune as you scan the images. Of course, that makes each new discovery all the more exciting.
Objects are hidden quite deviously, too, sometimes more than really works. Some highlighted phrases even require you to first click one object to reveal the second clickable option. You might be asked to find 'shavings,' for instance, which means you must first click on the pencil positioned in a sharpener, then on the resulting mess. That little innovation is welcome, though. Some other features are not. In one stage, for example, I was looking for a wreath and spent a few minutes on the endeavor, only to find--by way of a 'hint'--that it was right in front of me with only a slight color variation to distinguish it from its surroundings. If you're playing on a laptop or poor-quality or overly dim monitor, you'll definitely want to make sure you have the screen positioned just right so that you don't miss something.
And yes, I mentioned 'hints.' That's the word for the game basically saying “Here it is, you blind bat!” You begin each stage with three of them available, and you can obtain a fourth or even a fifth by finding hidden golden eggs throughout the themed portraits. When you choose to access one, a hummingbird will fly out and point to one of the missing items on your list. It doesn't take long to figure out that you should save these for the last possible moment, since the last thing you want to do is waste a vital clue on an 'easy' find only to be stuck looking for more difficult objects on your own.
The 'hints' system is actually pretty nicely balanced, and so are other restrictions that obviously could have been open to exploits if the developers hadn't been on the ball. You can pause the game, for instance. Do so with hopes of giving yourself more time, though, and you're in for disappointment; the screen almost immediately fades out of sight and you don't gain anything at all. Clicking randomly also isn't going to work. Too many fruitless searches in a set period of time result in a blow to your remaining time that you surely can't afford (particularly in later stages). You also have to click directly on the appropriate object or it won't be eliminated, so there's no canvassing the illustrations and hoping that luck is with you.
If you get tired of the main attraction--as you certainly may, when going through both campaigns takes a combined total of around 7 or 8 hours--there are diversions in the 'attic' that you can play. Three mini-games are available. In one, you flip over cards in search of matches while you try to avoid the time penalties. Another is like a slot machine, and you can keep spinning to put together new furniture. The final game asks you to match related items on the various cards (for example, you might match a starry sky to a telescope). The last of these games can be frustrating when you're not sure what the pictures are even supposed to depict--let alone a conceivable relationship between two cards--but otherwise goes well. Like the other offerings, it's mostly pleasant.
That pretty much sums up the game, which clearly wasn't built for the alien-blasting gamers out there (or even those who like a gauntlet of mini-games). Because of its limited but extremely effective design, Dream Day: First Home should be considered a resounding success and definitely comes recommended to those who want something different to do with their PC gaming time. I don't foresee it winning any converts for casual gaming, but open-minded gamers who give it a fair chance are unlikely to regret making that decision. Now if only cleaning up my own dwelling were this much fun, I'd be set!
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 18, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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