Note: In our experience, the launch day update made Disney Dreamlight Valley slightly more unstable on Switch than the pre-launch version we played for review. Putting our system into Sleep mode, for example, results in a crash in most cases when we wake the Switch.
In the days since launch, the developer has been pushing patches live to address various bugs and issues, but we would still advise you to save your game before putting your console into Sleep mode.
Imagine waking up and seeing Mickey Mouse pottering around in his garden, while Scrooge McDuck opened up shop, and WALL-E the timid robot searched for flowers to help make someone smile that day. It’s the stuff of dreams for anyone with any level of attachment to Disney properties, and it's what you get to experience every day in Disney Dreamlight Valley.
Dreamlight Valley could easily be a cynical play on nostalgia, letting you build a miniature Disney theme park village, sprinkling some shallow life-sim elements, and leaving it at that. Instead, it’s a surprisingly character-driven experience that’s heavy on customization, with some thoughtful commentary on growing up and a (mostly) relaxing loop that wants you to have as much fun as possible. It’s just a shame it runs so poorly on the Switch.
Disney Dreamlight Valley opens with a twist on the formula Harvest Moon helped establish. You, tired of the mundane and empty stresses of daily life, long to return to the one place you were happy as a child, where it felt like anything was possible and the future was bright. Unlike the life sims it draws inspiration from, Dreamlight Valley weaves this concept into its narrative foundations and turns it into a unique opportunity for building emotional connections.
The Ruler suddenly left, insidious Night Thorns overtook the village, and the valley’s inhabitants forgot their purpose in life and left their friends behind. The ruler’s identity is hardly a secret, and it’s plain the metaphor Dreamlight Valley wants to create is you rediscovering joy by connecting with your old Disney pals. Intentional or not, though, it’s also an unexpected and even poignant bit of commentary about growing up in general – letting your hopes slip away, losing friends and loved ones, and generally seeing the world through a bleaker lens than before.
The tinge of sadness seeps into character interactions and even quests as well. Mickey Mouse making us tear up as he talks about clinging to the hope that he may see again one day wasn’t on our 2022 bingo card, but the result is a setting where you feel more connected with the inhabitants and their joys and sorrows, even if you aren’t that much of a Disney lover.
Your task is to bring the village and valley back to life, rebuilding not just its shuttered shops and run-down restaurants, but the hearts of everyone who lives there as well. That can take the shape of investing money in Scrooge McDuck’s emporium, taking Mickey’s mind off loneliness by having a picnic, or just dropping by to chat every day.
Deepening your friendships also unlocks the means to explore other parts of the realm, though Dreamlight Valley occasionally falls into the common free-to-play trap of locking progress behind convoluted grinding. You need certain amounts of Dreamlight to unblock the large night thorns. Dreamlight is essentially the game’s version of Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ Nook Miles Points. It accumulates when you do almost anything, from picking flowers to selling fish, but even when you have enough to proceed, you have to stop and prove yourself worthy by acquiring a special orb.
The first one makes you reach level five friendship with three villagers, which means handing over dozens of home-cooked meals or hunting down mining nodes that, hopefully, give you rare gems that bump friendship levels up significantly. However, the reward is worthwhile, since this is the only way to access the valley’s other biomes and, by extension, more crafting materials.
Some quest requirements get stuck in a similar rut, but the payoff from most of them – even if it’s just seeing how new characters interact with established residents – makes it worthwhile. You can also take a break from grinding by spending Dreamlight in the valley’s castle to access realms, small areas themed around a certain character such as WALL-E, and invite them to live in the village.
When you aren’t going fishing with Goofy or visiting realms, you’ve got a staggering array of crafting and design options to get stuck into both in your own house and across the valley itself. These options unfold slowly as you find new recipes, but there’s still quite a bit you can do even with just the basics.
It’s indicative of Gameloft’s broader design here. Disney Dreamlight Valley clearly wants to make itself approachable and fun for everyone and goes out of its way to make tasks that are often unpleasant in other life sims as convenient as possible. Every recipe, even experimental ones that should be vile failures, produces something useful. You can water whole swathes of soil with one use of the watering can. Fishing spots bubble back to life after just a few minutes. The whole experience is frictionless, minus the occasional tedious segments, and lends itself perfectly either to short check-ins to craft a few items or longer sessions getting your house just right.
In other words, it’s a perfect fit for the Switch – theoretically. In reality, Dreamlight Valley needs a fair bit more optimization to run well on Nintendo’s hybrid console. Camera stuttering and frame rate issues are common in handheld mode, while both docked and handheld mode struggle with severe menu lag, long load times, and a few moments when Dreamlight Valley just gives up and crashes.
There are a few non-Switch-specific issues Gameloft can hopefully sort out as time goes by. The user interface currently doesn’t display an item name when you acquire it, which leads to some confusing moments when you get something new and don’t know what it is, let alone where to find it. Ambient character dialogue, which is actually quite good, is audio only, while the quest tracker often gives only vague instructions.
Such quirks are what you typically expect from early access games, and coupled with an unclear plan for the future, recommending Disney Dreamlight Valley for $30 doesn't come without qualifications, but what’s here is fun.
Disney Dreamlight Valley is a frictionless, relaxing spin on life sims that manages to remain heartwarming and charming, despite a few Switch-related rough patches. Dreamlight Valley’s unique identity relies heavily on fresh interactions with your in-game friends, and Gameloft will need to continue supporting it with regular updates to keep the Night Thorns from creeping back in. However, what's here at launch is surprisingly touching and thoughtful, and cleverly plays on the nostalgia of anyone who's ever been a Disney fan.