These video games or films based on dreams sometimes frustrated me, and sometimes were just fun to play. But one thing I’m sure about is that they always destabilized me. Capable of the best as well as the worst, dreams are often associated with a state of mental confusion, ideal for fooling the viewer or the player. For example, I am thinking of the excellent movie Inception or the game Alan Wake, two artworks that destabilized their audience by showing their main character's hallucinations.
Now that I'm thinking about it... am I really writing this article or just dreaming about it? Hum…
Anyways... Today I offer you THE ultimate list (well, OK, maybe not so much) of dreamlike video games! You'll see, they're not all good games, but... still deserved to be discovered.
Dreams in color
The entire Rayman action game series is based on dreams. Think of this charismatic and colorful character born in a magical place called the "Crossroads of Dreams". Rayman is a 25-year-old series composed of several opuses. Some of which have been described by a seasoned critic (me) as masterpieces. My favorite? Rayman Origins.
Super Mario Bros. 2
I can still see myself, at age 13, completely amazed by the dreamlike world of Super Mario Bros 2. Fascinating adventure with a wide variety of environments, a sublime soundtrack, and funny original enemy characters. A giant mouse throwing bombs!? A strange creature that spits out eggs? What can I say about this famous finale where I was dismayed to see that the whole adventure I just went through was just Mario’s dream? “Hahaha! What was that?” Disappointment X1000. To be honest, that day, a part of my soul may have died.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Wonderfully relaunched in 2019 on Switch, Link's Awakening embraces the dreamlike universe. Magnificent art direction, very colorful, epic soundtrack, intelligent puzzles, and... a touching realization that we were all this time playing in the dream of a huge... Wind Fish. The finale of this game is so fascinating... but aaargh, again this conclusion that we were in a dream?!
NiGHTS Into Dreams
I remember that when this game was released in 1996, it needed to battle for some space next to a certain Mario 64 and a Crash Bandicoot... Bad timing. But still a great game that went under the radar for many players at the time. This Saturn title perfectly embraced the concept of "dreamlike games" at the beginning of 3D games, putting the player as a hero flying through the colorful dreams of children. Oooh, soo cute!
A dreamlike game series featuring a cute and magical little pink ball with his friends from the “world of dreams”. The Kirby franchise has many games to its credit from 1992 to 2019. Almost all of them are good, generally easy to approach, and offer a dreamlike vibe with its crazy environments and zany creatures. Oh, and the music is very good! It was good on Game Boy and on all platforms that followed.
Between dream and hallucination
In this dreamy game, we play a tired, jaded and alcoholic detective with a mysterious past. This little koala (yeah, the hero is a koala wearing sunglasses) has abused a few substances over the years… He is conducting a little investigation, looking for a missing lover, occasionally plunged into strange dreams, sometimes premonitory, but always unsettling.
Wow, what a game. This original and terrifying concept of repelling enemies with large bursts of light! The flashlight becomes your best friend in this horrific forest adventure that puts you into the tortured mind of a sleep-deprived Alan. Is he hallucinating, is he imagining these murderers that come for him? Those crows up there, are they real or not? Well, they still hurt... or not? Is all of this from Alan's imagination? No, it's real...
Far from being the best game in town, it does, however, offer a very original dreamlike game concept. In the first-person view, the main objective is to fall asleep before the monster arrives. We are controlling a child in a bedroom and have to close the window, turn off the light that has just been opened, push a drawer, get into bed, try to stay calm by telling ourselves that we are hallucinating, that it is all the fruit of our imagination and wait...
Nightmarish Video Games
Call of Cthulhu
Private Detective Edward Pierce on Darkwater Island in the 1920s investigates the mysterious death of a painter. Based on the world of H.P. Lovecraft, the scenario is fascinating, disturbing, and full of unsettling hallucinations. Is this guy with an octopus head real? I'm going crazy, is that it? For sure, you'll ask yourself these kinds of questions.
Omen Exitio: Plague
Another dreamlike game based on the universe of the famous writer H.P. Lovecraft, but this time it carries us in 1896 as Dr. Jake Huntington in Zanzibar. We must investigate a strange evil that eliminates the local population and threatens people around the globe. Presented in the form of “You are the Hero” books, it is ideal to play it on Switch in bed, but to be avoided if you want to avoid stress before sleep.
As you've seen in this list, many games are revolving around the “dreamlike video games” theme. Sometimes dark, even disturbing, sometimes joyful, and often crazy, these games give complete freedom to their creators. Just as we, when asleep, travel in our mind, at the mercy of our imagination.