Have you ever wished that you could travel back in time and change a pivotal moment in your life? Have you ever stopped to really consider what would happen if you actually did? In Time Dreamer, a fun, challenging new hidden object adventure, you’ll finally have a chance to find out, but consider yourself warned: If you mess with time, the odds are pretty good that time will mess with you.
Time Dreamer begins on a bit of a down note. After emerging from a seven-year coma without the slightest idea of how it came about, you are unceremoniously dumped on the street by one of the most hilariously disinterested nurses in the history of video games. Making matters worse, you return home only to discover your house in ruins and your brilliant, eccentric father dead of unknown causes. But after an unusually eventful nap, a mysterious and surprisingly well-informed stranger pays a visit and suddenly it becomes clear that not all is as it seems.
You are a, or perhaps the, Time Dreamer, possessing the supernatural ability to travel back and forth through time in your dreams and effect change in the real world, giving you the power to seek revenge against the mega-corporation who killed your father, or perhaps even to prevent his murder from happening at all.
It sounds like pretty heavy stuff and to a certain extent it is, but don’t worry about feeling too weighted down because a big part of the game’s success hinges on its simple refusal to take itself too seriously. On one hand, yes, you’re trying to prevent the death of your father and the destruction of your home town; on the other, chapter six is entitled, “How to Have Fun in Jail,” which I think neatly sums up the game’s overall “vibe,” if you will. Having fun is definitely the name of this game.
The focus of Time Dreamer is on hidden object scenes but a hefty dose of adventuring is also on the menu. Many of the items found in object searches must be carried around in your inventory for later use in solving puzzles or opening up new areas of the game. The object searches themselves don’t feature a lot of item interactivity but do include numerous “containers” in which objects are hidden, so while a certain amount of pixel hunting is unavoidable, the aggravation is slight because most of the containers are quite obvious, like closed cupboards or drawers. Likewise, back-and-forth movement between locations is inevitable in an adventure game but Time Dreamer does a good job of keeping it to a bare minimum.
The game looks good, with clear, colorful scenes and the occasional bit of animation, but sound effects are largely limited to low-level ambient audio. Gameplay is a fairly standard mix of hidden object searches, adventure elements and simple puzzles, and unlike many HOGs, the plot is actually a point of strength; it’s not the next Dan Brown novel but it does manage to turn a rather sombre subject into a fun little romp through the past, present and future, and ties things up with a satisfying and rather unexpected ending. Even the closing credits are a nice treat.
One unusual twist in Time Dreamer is the inclusion of two levels of difficulty, “Casual” and “Expert.” This is not simply cosmetic; expert mode features very long hint recharge times, smaller, harder-to-find items in hidden object scenes, no “hot-spot hints” and more difficult puzzles than in casual mode. The game’s first puzzle, for instance, requires that the gears in a clock be assembled in correct order and while casual mode includes only four puzzle pieces, in expert mode players must contend with eight. The expert level is a real challenge and best reserved for players with a good chunk of time and the patience to avoid becoming frustrated during laborious searches for tiny objects. With that in mind, it’s also worth noting that difficulty levels cannot be changed mid-game; if you start in expert, you’re stuck in expert unless you scrap the whole thing and begin again.
Those wee little objects can be particularly annoying because Time Dreamer is very picky about where items are clicked and refuses to recognize them unless you’re right on the money. One or two definitions, such as “masking tape” that was actually a Band-Aid or a loaf of bread that looked suspiciously like a danish, are a little off the mark and the game can also be a bit obtuse now and then, leaving a certain amount of confusion about how to proceed. On the upside, however, the hint option not only points out hard-to-find hidden objects but provides much-needed help about where to go and what to do during non-HOG bits as well.
Another bit of oddness is the mandatory Flash installation that’s part of the setup process, regardless of whether or not it’s already on your PC. Most users probably already have Flash installed and it most definitely was on mine, yet declining the installation option aborted the Time Dreamer setup process. It’s not really a bug but it is a little unusual and unexpected. Fortunately, allowing the game to reinstall Flash during a second setup attempt worked out perfectly well, so it doesn’t appear to be anything to worry about.
As you might expect from a game based on amnesia and time travel, Time Dreamer doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground in the genre but it does what it does very well and tosses in enough novel ideas to keep things interesting. The separate difficulty levels are distinct enough to be meaningful and allow the game to be easily played by new and casual gamers without compromising the challenge for veterans. In spite of the odd frustrating moment, Time Dreamer is a very good game and definitely worth the interest of anyone looking for a little more than just another find-and-click hidden object hunt.