With game engines and development kits in abundance these days, there are now so many ways to make games that look good and play well, although time and effort are still required to put everything together. The good thing about this is there are some really cool and weird ideas that come out of the woodwork, and Dreaming Mary is one of those titles that follow a certain formula that has grown to be common from this scene.
Dreaming Mary is a puzzle adventure game made in RPG Maker VX Ace by a three-person indie development team called Dreaming Games, composed of two musicians and an artist. This game is like a less-disturbing sidescrolling version of Yume Nikki, a now-legendary game made in RPG Maker that became infamous for its dark and surreal imagery (as well as its uber creepy easter egg). This game has roughly the same premise of exploring a dream world, albeit in a more cutesy atmosphere.
Mary is a girl who is able to move around in her dreams and interact with strange and interesting characters in them. While she’s awake in the real world, you can see that she resides in a dull looking room, where she has been locked in by her father. But when she sleeps and goes into her dream, everything is bubblegum pink and quite girly. She is warned though that venturing too deep into this dream world can keep her locked in her sleep forever. In a sense, the goal is to wake up from this dream and to return to the real world.
Much of this game’s inspiration comes from Ib, a freeware horror game made in RPG Maker 2000 that features yet another female protagonist. However, Dreaming Mary does not actively advertise itself as a horror game, and it can be finished without encountering anything creepy or scary. If you’re of the faint of heart, then you can still finish this game normally by playing straight up, which is easy enough to do. There’s an ending though that’s harder to get to and involve the dream world changing for the worse.
As Mary, you walk around the dream world and figure out what’s going on and how to wake up. There are four characters you can talk to in order to find clues to waking up, each having their own place in the dream world, as well as their own quirks. There’s Bunnilda, who likes to clean stuff; Penn Guindel, who looks dapper in his chair while reading books all day in his library; Foxanne, who is a flapper hanging out in a bar; and Boaris, who is kind of creepy and encourages you to go deeper into the dream.
The game’s visuals are the main selling point for this game, with all the pink and girliness that belies its surreal and surprisingly twisted nature. It’s also matched by the soundtrack, albeit repetitive after a while. Mary’s character designs are both endearing, both her simple real-world version and her cute pink dream version.
As for the gameplay, it’s not super deep as to require transcendental meditation. You just talk to each character and fulfill whatever tasks they request of you (except that of Boaris, perhaps), and you get to unlock more until you get to the end of the game. Most of the puzzles are easy enough to figure out (except for Bunnilda’s statues), so the story can be completed after a few attempts.
There are a few flaws worth considering in this game. For instance, some elements (especially the characters) can’t just be approached and interacted with simply. You have to position Mary on the side of NPCs in order to talk to them, which is a minor gripe that players can get used to, but still a bit annoying at the start of the game.
For a freeware game, this is a substantial adventure game that combine visual appeal with some intriguing narrative elements. There must be a trend of games that look cute and have something scary or creepy within it, and Dreaming Mary is one of those titles.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 7/10