Dream Hills is a game that reminds me how difficult it is for game developers and designers to start in a cut-throat, dog eat dog industry such as games development. Qualifications don’t guarantee work, especially when the industry always expects experience and at the very least a full portfolio to showcase your talent. So, what do you do when nobody will give you that chance? You create it yourself and that’s exactly what the 8-man student development team behind Dream Hills did.
After my initial playthrough of the game, I wanted to know more about the development team and their process. I wanted to know how long development took, how experienced they were and, ultimately, what they are doing now. Unfortunately, as my Spanish is far from fluent, there was little information about the Barcelona-based team available. What I did find, was that they were indeed all working on other projects with other developers. Hard work pays off.
Dream Hills is cute, whimsical and even downright silly at times, but it holds a certain charm to it as well. You play as Timmy, a young boy set upon by the neighborhood bullies who rip the ear off his toy bear, and you want it back. The game can be finished in roughly 30 minutes and once complete it unlocks a sandbox mode for you to explore and do anything you may have missed on your initial playthrough. The voice acting is over-the-top in its style, creating quirky and eccentric bullies who act as quest givers that progress the story. Think Bully but on a kindergarten level.
Combat is surprising in its attempt at depth. You use a slingshot to attack and have unlimited use of the basic ammunition, but you can collect the random childhood paraphernalia scattered around the town and craft other ammo. Toy soldiers, building bricks and glue lie strewn throughout the town of Dream Hills and whilst the recipes don’t really make sense (E.g. Glue and toy soldiers make crayons) it is nice to see the crafting system and the attempt to add complexity. Unfortunately, there is no real need to use anything but the basic ammo, save for one exception and I can’t help but feel that a bit of attention to the crafting system and a rebalancing of the ammo would make for a more fulfilling experience.
Some of the objects in the world are interactable with the slingshot as well. A well-aimed shot can explode a fire hydrant or make a lawn mower hurtle towards an enemy and take them out. However, the random placement of enemies and the way they react to seeing Timmy means you need the patience and timing of a god to ensure that some of these actually work to your advantage.
You are free to use mouse and keyboard or a controller to play the game, but I found mouse and keyboard to be much easier to use. In one particular mini-game with an RC car, I was forced to switch back to mouse and keyboard to actually stand a chance of completing it before I became too frustrated to continue.
The game as it stands is a good demonstration of the developer’s ideas and creativity. The game isn’t full of bugs and through my three playthroughs of the game, I found nothing game-breaking. The systems that the game uses are great as foundations and give you a sense of where the developers were going, they just need a bit of love and attention. My experience with the game wasn’t unpleasant, and considering the game is free of charge, I would happily say it is worth a download if you find yourself bored. Whilst the game didn’t quite hit the mark for me, I am glad the developers took the time to gain the experience from this project, and I am pleased they all seem to have moved on to bigger and better things. I look forward to seeing how far they have progressed in the future.