I have played many weird games, but Dream Zone remains among the weirdest. What would you say if I told you that all bureaucrats are pigs? I mean real pigs. Or how about the fact that all you need to marry a woman is to wash your face? Or that your little brother's toy gun can kill nearly everything? You'd say that I should keep dreaming. Well, that's exactly what I did in this game.
Being basically a rip-off of Tass Times in Tonetown, Dream Zone goes a little further and adds graphics to the mix. The result is mixed: if you got the PC version all the years back, you wished for a good old text adventure. If you got the Apple II version, however, you'd be pleasantly surprised what these two authors, who confessed of creating the game in their garage, managed to do.
Dream Zone puts you into the role of a young man who has troubles sleeping, suffering from nightmares. He gets professional help from Sigmund Fraud (don't worry, the jokes will get better as you play along, even though I have the feeling they are unintentional), who gives you a special nectar that would put you to sleep until you defeat the monster that's causing the nightmares. As is often the case in this kind of dreams, if you fail you'll die and never wake up again. And trust me, you will die often.
This game is extremely unforgiving. If you forget a single item in the first three rooms, you are dead meat sometimes later in the game. To make the situation worse, every wrong movement can cost you your life. You want to go to the bathroom at night? Tough luck; the bathroom eats you. And so on? Once you reach the dream world, you will be trapped there until you are able to defeat the demon. Your problems are just starting, however, The game is full of characters, all of which have something to say, and many of which need you to do something. You'll end up in a government building, hunting for different official forms, only to be able to get the next batch of forms. The problem is that the building has 390 rooms, each identical (except the number), each with an identical officer. You will need to feed some of them, kill others, and at last you will be able to get the proper forms. This sequence presents maybe the most frustrating bureaucracy simulation in existence of video gaming; where Bureaucracy was funny, this is dead serious and reeks of official business. After that, it's up to meeting a girl and marrying her, saving the princess, get the sword and kill the monster. Simple, if you know what you are doing. This game is tough. I mean really tough, for a good week at least?
I have touched the graphics already, but let's take a closer look at the technical aspect of the game overall. You will be able to choose two color modes (check out the technical notes first), none of which are really groundbreaking. The interface consists of a text parser, which has closely reminded me of old Sierra adventures. In addition, you will have a few keyboard shortcuts that cover the majority of used verbs in the game, but I never got used to them. Overall, the controls are very easy to learn; it's the interface that's problematic. The pictures don't give you enough information of the various locations, and getting additional information using the text parser did not work either. In addition, the game has a few bugs, such as the parser not working properly and you ending up trying several times or a certain character not dying when he was supposed to.
Overall, however, this is one of the more interesting adventure games. Real-world logic gets you killed here, yet all puzzles are logical in their own way. It helps that all inventory items will be used as well and that other characters are willing to give you additional information. If the graphics were better and the creators concentrated more on the story than on different ways to get you stuck or killed, the game would have been a gem. Right now, it is "only" an above-average adventure game from late 1980s?
About the authors
Andy Gavin and Jason Rubin. Developing this game under the label JAM Software, the authors were relative newcomers to the world of gaming. Previously, they have released Ski Crazed, a "game that almost, but not quite, completely failed to evoke the thrill of downhill skiing", and which they sold the publishing rights to Baudville Software. That game was a major disaster, according to the authors. They did not despair and sold the publishing rights to Dream Zone to Baudville again, which, according to the authors described as "created by its founder as a tax loss". At that time, both authors were only 17. In 1989, the company signed with Electronic Arts, changed its name to Naughty Dog Software and published Keef the Thief. A few years later the company published Rings of Power for Genesis, followed by the sub-par (yet popular, for some reason) Way of the Warrior for 3DO. The hey days of the company started in 1996, ten years after it's been established as JAM Software, by developing the first game in the Crash Bandicoot series. The company has been recently acquired by Sony, is still active and very proud of its history, which is a dominant feature on its Web site. I may add that the authors evolved as well - the site is much more funny than their first hit game, Dream Zone.
Technical stuff: Alt+Q is quit, Alt+S is for saving and Alt+L for loading.