We can understand the panic that is felt by the scientists in I dream of you and ice cream. They’ve made first contact with an alien, but that alien has decided to take the form of a ventriloquist’s dummy: a kind of big-headed Woody from Toy Story. It’s terrifying. This game will ruin any remaining affection you had for puppets.
This Punch puppet has been kept in a lab to be studied, although it’s not entirely clear who is studying whom. Every day, a new batch of scientists circle round it, and the alien asks questions about the nature of humanity. Why do we fight wars? What is love? The scientists answer as best as they can, but it’s clear that the answers aren’t necessarily the ones that it wants.
You play one of these scientists, due to have an audience with the alien in the next few days. You have a plan, but it’s not clear what that plan is. That’s because nobody, including the main character, actually talks in I dream of you and ice cream – at least not with words. It’s an entirely textless narrative adventure. So, you try to grasp what you can about the plot from icon-based speech bubbles, strange dreams, and short cutscenes that take you into the alien’s chamber.
The lack of any dialogue works perfectly in the context of I dream of you and ice cream. There’s clearly some translation barriers with the alien, so the fact that you can’t understand everything that’s being said within the game makes a deal of sense. Equally, scientists from around the world have come to Greece where the alien made landfall, so there’s an argument there, too; language barriers would exist. But mostly the effect just creates an off-kilter, unsettling atmosphere as you try to keep up with a plot that’s slightly out of your grasp.
Your scientist wants five items to insert into the carcass of a robot. That means straying into the corridors of the complex and finding them. They’re all nearby, but they’re hidden behind terminals and machinery, and you have to complete their puzzles to access them. In the world of I dream of you and ice cream, you have to work for your gear.
It’s hard to see these puzzles as anything but arbitrary. I dream of you and ice cream doesn’t really care about fitting its puzzles to the story, which is a moderate shame. You could point to games like Professor Layton and say that puzzles don’t fit the narrative snugly there, but you’re at least rewarded with some story afterwards. In I dream of you and ice cream, it can sometimes feel like you’re completing random tests for even more random items, with only morsels of story as a payoff. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it hints to the even better game I dream of you and ice cream could have been.
The puzzles themselves are rather splendid. They have the odd control issue, particularly with a clumsy controller in hand, but they have a nice pattern of being completely impenetrable to start with, before you start twiddling knobs and poking buttons. With a few interactions, you begin to see what it wants from you, and the puzzling begins. There’s something satisfying about being presented with the equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting, only to work out the patterns within it.
There are some more basic puzzles, similar to things we’ve played in Layton or the odd Hidden Object adventure. Ropes need to be repositioned so that no thread overlaps another; a cube needs to be reconstructed from its exploded diagram. But there’s a lot we haven’t played too. We’re still not sure how we managed to complete a few of them. These include a DNA sequence with very special rules applied, and a sequence of pincers that change position once they’ve swapped balls with each other. I dream of you and ice cream is a dab hand at finding new ways to bake your noodle.
But what’s going to linger with us isn’t the puzzles, as good as they can be. What sticks is the dread. It builds throughout I dream of you and ice cream, and occasionally pays off in shocking bursts of violence. It manages to find horror in something that should, by rights, have been more comedic. And we found ourselves drawn by forces we can’t explain to complete the puzzles, simply because we wanted to see what horrors were next on the conveyor belt.
At a couple of hours long, I dream of you and ice cream is shorter than most movies. But in its tension and its ability to surprise, it can match the best horror films. As we arrived at the end, we felt the need to know more, while also feeling that it wrapped up the story it wanted to tell. That’s an impressive double-hander. For £3.29, that’s more than we could reasonably expect.
I dream of you and ice cream is undoubtedly flawed. Its puzzles are never seamless, and they can feel like distractions from the good stuff. But when it’s good it’s great, as it carries a unique alien threat, a sense of dread that’s so thick you could pour it on your ice cream, and a concise story that lingers. Forget dreaming of you: we’re going to be having nightmares about this one, long after the review is finished.
You can buy I dream of you and ice cream from the Xbox Store