Friday, February 18, 2011

Dream TV (1992)

by Triffix
for Super Nintendo

I grew up in the age of Super Nintendo vs. Sega Genesis. My brother and I chose Super Nintendo, and my friends down the street Sega Genesis. Without the gaming inspiration of a next gen console, or a fast enough computer, I decided to go back in time. A time when the first Bush was president, "Blossom" was on TV and clunky gray cartridges were my newest technology. Not content to simply review a game I already owned and loved, I scanned a list of titles and picked a few that sounded interesting.

Enter "Dream TV." Want the backstory? You better Google. I assume the plot found on the web comes from the manual, which you can't find online. Two kids happen upon a hip new video game, which sucks them in the TV. An evil critic is holding them hostage. Only when they find puzzle pieces hidden in four different fantasy lands can they hope to escape. All of this is barely reflected in the cutscenes, so it helped to read it beforehand.

"Dream TV" is a platformer with two on-screen characters at once. You can tackle it co-op style with a buddy, or play alone, alternating characters with L and R. As a single player, you can choose to keep the view a split screen, or go full screen using Select. When two play at once, the screen widens out when you're near each other, and goes back to split as you get further apart. I tried two player mode briefly, and the effect made me seasick. I can't imagine it being easy.

Right as you start the game, the pooch is sort of screwed on the main story. Your first sight is two boys floating in some sort of TV screen being yakked at by a floating head, whom you know nothing about (provided you didn't Google). The idea of being stuck in the TV and fighting your way out seems tailor made for a video game. There's a lot of potential ground to cover. Here, the idea feels tacked on, like it was added to a generic platform game to make it somehow cohesive. Why are you collecting puzzle pieces? Why not chewy chewy taffy? Why do these puzzle pieces satisfy the critic?
Unrealized promising concept #1.

The reason you have two characters is because of the obstacles you'll encounter. Sometimes you need to act in concert with your teammate to progress. The most common form is the seesaw. One player bounces another in the air to help them make a jump, or reach the next part of the stage. In the short time I could handle playing, saying the potential for this feature was barely explored is a compliment.
Promising concept #2.

The basics of platforming are not handled well here. Hit detection is beyond frustrating. I think my character looked at a spike and died for his trouble. Your sprites jump with all the subtle handling of a paddle boat. There are many enemies you simply can't kill with any weapon. Did you know small rats running by your feet can take large chunks of your life force away? Explains the violence of the rat trap, doesn't it? Sometimes you enter a new screen and meet unavoidable attacks that take a life. A forest area in the first stage is rife with opportunities to die, like randomly flying animals that take three hits apiece from your pathetic weapon. And KILLER BEES.

The two characters share a pool of 10 lives. As a first timer, you'll run out halfway through the first level. The only form of saving or continuing are the passwords you get after completing each stage. Given there are four total stages in the game, the passwords take some time to get to. If you fly solo, be careful where you leave your non-active character. He can lose all your lives simply by standing near respawning enemies. Yes, enemies respawn on an inconsistent basis. Isn't that fun?

Some holes lead you to other parts of the map. Many others simply cost you a life. I think the designers intended exploring each level to figure out, through excruciating trial and error, just what the correct solutions were. To be honest, I was intrigued enough to battle through the first level over and over again until I got that sucker right. After finally achieving victory and moving to stage two, I was suddenly reminded of where I came from. New level, new unfair challenges. I burned through my remaining six lives quickly, not nearly as intrigued anymore. I tried several more times to give the game the fairest shake I could, falling to my death in an attempt to find more screens.


I think "Dream TV" swims around the "so bad it's good" category. I think it's worth a shot if only to see how bad a game can really get. It's not so bad it's unplayable - it's funny bad, in the sense you'll constantly get hit and wonder what the hell's going on. Maybe one day I'll stomach it out with a partner and try to get past stage two. But they undercooked SO many parts of this game, it's disappointing to try again.

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