Have you heard the one about the goat, the parrot, and the raccoon? It may sound like the setup to a bad joke, but it's actually the cast of Dreamals; it's a puzzle-platformer that's got cute animals and dreamy landscapes in abundance - which is probably almost definitely where the name comes from. While it isn't anything too complex or ambitious, if you're looking for something light then don't hit the snooze button on this one just yet.
The story is told entirely through text bubbles, explaining that our three heroes aren't entirely the cutie pies you might expect them to be. In fact, they bicker with each other all day long until they're too physically exhausted to continue, and then promptly fall asleep before round two begins the next morning. One night, a mysterious dream spirit pulls them into a dream world to recover its lost dream keys, (did we mention that it's a dream?) and so they'll need to pull together if they want to get home.
While the game is immediately quite attractive, thanks to a colourful art style and some cheery music, there isn't any kind of elaboration on the animals' different personalities or an interesting story twist to keep things moving. It's a shame we don't even get to hear some of their silly arguments, for example, but the focus is definitely more so on the gameplay here so there isn't any more story than what's needed.
Your goal in each 2D level is to find a key which activates a portal you can escape through, navigating the animals around obstacles in order to do so. However, Dreamals creates a unique challenge by limiting the movement of your characters, holding each of the three animals back from all but one set direction. The raccoon can only move left, the goat can only move right, and the parrot can jump in place. The kicker is that your animals will merge when they come into contact, upgrading their abilities in turn. Move the raccoon into the goat and you'll be able to move left and right as you please, and adding the parrot allows you to jump as well. This is complicated further by the fact that all animals move simultaneously, so you'll need to multi-task and keep an eye on everything at once.
A pretty bare-bones hubworld ties the levels together into four themed areas, ranging from forests and jungles to more interesting cloudy landscapes. Though the initial concept is quite straightforward, it quickly becomes more elaborate as duplicate animals appear and different obstacles such as spikes, switches and launchpads are introduced. There's generally only one way to clear each level, so it can be pretty frustrating trying to work out exactly what's expected of you, and the difficulty ramps up early on. Memorization is key as you fine-tune your moments into a well practiced dance, and seemingly simple puzzles can take up to and beyond twenty minutes each to get right. Depending on your preference, that's either going to feel incredibly rewarding or a something like a chore when all is said and done, and we found it generally teetered somewhere in the middle for us.
Experimentation and repetition will see you through the game in a few hours, and there isn't much in the way of replayability once you've completed every level. Optional stars can be collected but there won't be any new animals to unlock or secret puzzles to reveal, so it's really only an extra incentive for completionists. New level elements are brought in right to the finish though, so it's a versatile enough game while it lasts.
One major disappointment is that the GamePad is left in pitch darkness for the duration of gameplay, meaning that off-screen play isn't possible at all. The aforementioned hubworld is an unnecessary hoop to jump through between levels as well, which is exasperated by some clumsy menu design. A major bugbear throughout our playthrough was the lack of a quick reset button, which would have streamlined repeat attempts greatly. In fact, the ability to rewind time would really be a dream come true, especially on some of the longer levels. We aren't too ashamed to admit we died a lot, so having to enter the menu and reset each time became a bit of a pain. It's a simple and appealing game, but some extra polish would have made it sharper and snappier too.
We'd almost want to recommend Dreamals on the concept of three adorable, bickering animals alone, but unfortunately the waking world didn't quite live up to expectation. Once the initial burst of cutesy charm wears off it's still a decently satisfying puzzler with a steady difficulty curve that starts off tough and slowly implements new mechanics as you progress. There isn't enough within the story or characters to keep the player interested beyond that however, so make sure you're up for a challenge and want a simple little distraction before diving in.