You would think that living in a town called Slumberton would guarantee a good night's sleep, but alas, an outbreak of nightmares has the residents tossing and turning. You must enter their dreams and put things right, but who is that shadowy man you keep seeing? The Dream Voyagers is a charming and inventive hidden object game that's guaranteed not to put you to sleep.
Each inhabitant of Slumberton has a particular phobia or concern that's infesting their dreamscapes and making it impossible for them to get some much-needed rest. You'll have to complete hidden object levels to restore their sweet dreams; your first assignment requires just two levels, but dreamers require more levels as you progress through the game. First, you'll have to track down ten of a resident's particular bugaboo – balloons for the mechanic, turtles for the fisherman, ghosts for the painter, and so forth – but subsequent levels follow the standard item list construction.
Where The Dream Voyagers diverges from the usual hidden object design is at the end of each stage, when you'll have to choose from a number of portals that open up once you've found the last object on the list. Each character in the game is associated with a particular location, and different portals will lead you to different locales. Characters remain locked until the first time you visit their home territory, providing incentive to explore as much as possible. Because the characters intersect in so many different ways, you'll likely end up revisiting locations many times, but the seeming randomness of your progression makes the game feel more organic and surprising.
You can spoil the surprise if you like, though. Completing Bonus Rounds earns you monocles, which you can use to peek through the portals and see where you're going. You'll eventually want to visit every location anyway, so the monocles aren't must-haves, but the Bonus Rounds are well worth playing. They don't unlock until you're about halfway through the game, and provide a completely different kind of hidden object challenge. Each round takes place in one of the game's locations, but instead of giving you a list of items to find, you're given three hints as to what the object might be, and a limited time to find it. Clues start off vague, ("food") and get more specific ("fried"), but figuring out what you're looking for and then actually finding it before the timer runs out is wonderfully tricky. You don't really need the monocles you earn from completing each Round, but the surge of pride you get for conquering each one is worth it.
The Dream Voyagers also boasts my favorite hint system ever in a HOG. There are three different hints whose meters fill at different rates as you find items. The first hint, which is easiest to fill up, will show you what a single object looks like. The second hint will point out three objects for you. The final, and most difficult hint to earn, will dim out the scenery and highlight everything on your list for a few seconds. Click fast enough and you can clear an entire room. It's my favorite system ever not only because it gives you different hint options, but also because you can use each one without losing the others. The only downside is that the meters reset between characters, so the more powerful hints are out of play for the first round or two. But finding each level's hidden sheep will help the meters fill up faster, so make sure to be on the lookout.
The Dream Voyagers is also just bursting with personality. Its cartoony style is eye-pleasing, colorful, and charming, making it a pleasure to tour around the dreamscapes of the townsfolk. Everything about the game is clever, charming, and polished, which brings me to my one sole complaint – there's just not enough of it. Well, that's not really true. The game itself will take you about three hours to finish, but the Bonus Rounds and Déjà vu mode – which lets you replay completed levels – add an hour or two onto that. But I wanted more, just the same. Call me greedy if you like, but I blame it on GameHouse for making something so darn fun.
- Ingenious portal mechanic. Great artwork. Super clever Bonus Round. Unique twists in a well-worn genre.
- No relaxed (untimed) mode, and time limits can be a bit severe at a times. On the short side. A fisherman afraid of turtles - how does that happen?