Dreaming Sarah from publisher Ratalaika Games has somewhat of a storied history. Released nearly six years ago on PC to a rather positive response, Dreaming Sarah found a small but notable following. In spite of this, it is only making its way to consoles now. More so, it is one of the most affordable titles optimized for Xbox Series X and S. However, is it worth drifting into a deep sleep with Sarah, or are you better off drinking an 11pm coffee?
Dreaming Sarah, at its core, is what I would describe as a light Metroidvania. There is a decent-sized interconnected map with biomes to explore, and you need various powers and items to progress. There is some light puzzle solving (most of which is easy) as well as some mostly simplistic platforming. There is no combat system to speak of. All of this makes Dreaming Sarah a more relaxing experience, almost like a 2D walking simulator.
The story is very basic and told over the span of the game. In short: Sarah is asleep, and you need to wake her up. To do so, you must traverse the levels of her dreams, ranging from a spooky forest to a dentist’s office. At times, the gameplay and the story rely on a sort of dream logic, which makes sense given the subject of the game. To give an example, in a few instances, you will be tasked with falling off a platform to reach higher ground. Similarly, in one narrative sequence, you will be tasked with putting to use a “smelly box of orange juice” you got for free from a Lemonade stand. It’s all rather creative and adds character to the dream world.
In terms of the platforming itself, the game is somewhat of a mixed bag. Sarah’s default jump is short and weighty, which can make some platforms harder to reach. Similarly, her walking speed does leave something to be desired. Given how the levels are designed, this is more often than not a non-issue, but regardless, the controls could use a bit more fine tuning. Sarah’s hitbox is also too large, leading to her getting hit by some obstacles she should not be hit by. The game does not have a lives system thankfully, but this also deserves mentioning.
In terms of the aesthetics, Dreaming Sarah ran at 4K 60fps for me, and for the most part it looked stunning. While the artstyle of this game is simplistic, the colours absolutely pop, oftentimes leaving a stunning image. The only biome in which the artstyle arguably suffers is the mansion one, as the style of the assets for the mansion clash with the early 16-bit aesthetic of the game. All in all, this game looks great.
The music, as well, deserves special mention. The tracks are atmospheric, moody and simply all around excellent. I know this is an Xbox review site, but the soundtrack is available for free on Steam. If you like the music, be sure to add it to your library!
However, in spite of my praises for the game, Dreaming Sarah is not without problems. Firstly, as mentioned prior, the controls can leave something to be desired. Again, this is not a precision perfect platformer like Celeste or Super Meat Boy, but some options would be nice.
Secondly, some of the objects in Dreaming Sarah serve seemingly either no purpose or purpose for one specific area only. For example, a can of paint does nothing more than recolor Sarah. Yet there is no instance of social stealth, and there is no instance of needing to colour your clothing to enter a new area. It serves quite literally no purpose beyond just changing her clothing, and I cannot understand why it has been added.
Thirdly, in at least a few areas, I hit a wall that I was unable to progress from. This was due in one instance to a vital asset failing to load in, and in another because it was unviable to clear an obstacle again from the other side. The only way out of this situation is by quitting the game or later using a pill, both of which takes you back to the start of the level. This is unfortunate all around.
There are some technical issues with this version that could use tweaking. For example, the solution to a puzzle involving doors was supposed to be displayed using light fixtures, but they failed to load in properly. This left me scratching my head for ages before I finally consulted a guide.
Finally, this is neither a positive nor a negative, but something I feel I must address. Dreaming Sarah does tackle some dark themes, including suicide. I felt I must disclose this to ensure you know whether this game is right for you.
Speaking of, Dreaming Sarah does provide an easy 1000 Gamerscore. It is a short title which you can complete in about 2 hours and several guides exist if you ever get lost or need that next cheevo hit. For achievement hunters, this title is definitely worth the low asking price.
All in all, Dreaming Sarah on Xbox does skew more towards the good dream rather than the nightmare. The game is mostly a visual treat with fantastic music, and it is dripping with endearing dream logic; something which is even more impressive when you consider it is primarily the effort of three creators. As one of the cheapest Xbox Series X|S optimized titles, I think there is a lot to love here, but some awkward controls and frustrating design decisions do hold this back from being an indie Metroidvania darling. I still think it is worth giving a look, and if you are an achievement hunter, you can at least pick up a quick and easy 1000 Gamerscore with Dreaming Sarah.