One of my favourite developments within video games over the past decade or so has been the wider acceptation of games without failure conditions. By removing a traditional “Game Over” screen, these types of games have been allowed to blossom into narrative and explorative genres like never before. Dreaming Canvas is one such game.
In Dreaming Canvas you walk around 5 distinct 3D environments till your heart’s content. There’s no time limit, no combat, no over-arching structure, no characters to interact with or missions to complete. Instead, you’re given free rein to wander around pleasant environments that resemble a valley forest, an island with a small village on it, a waterfall and cave system, a snow kissed town and a deserted desert settlement while taking it all in and listening to chilled out music.
There are some activities for you to do in Dreaming Canvas if you wish. Dotted around each level are a number of easels, highlighted by a beam of red light that stretches into the sky. When you approach these easels, your view focuses on the canvas and you get to ‘paint’ what you see before you. These scenes will often have an unresponsive NPC character just standing there waiting for their close up. Unfortunately, as fun as that sounds, these easels act more like cameras with a number of filters applied. Looking at the canvas you can see what the painting will look like and with sliders on the right side of the screen, you can change the contrast, hue and refinement of the image. Once you’ve got it where you want it, as realistic or as abstract as you want, you click “Paint” and the game does the rest for you, committing the landscape to the canvas. This is a really basic system that doesn’t feel like painting or drawing at all.
Elsewhere, there are floating paint brushes hidden in each environment. Walking up to one triggers a vocal track which reads out quotes from artists. These are supposed to be inspirational quotes but some of them are a little grim to be honest. The vocal delivery of these lines leaves a lot to be desired too.
It’s the environments that are the star of the Dreaming Canvas show though. Like low-poly dioramas, they’re quite beautiful at times. The lighting, providing glorious god rays past the scenery, is really impressive. As is the contextual sound effects and ambiance, with the babbling brook noises increasing as you get closer to them.
It’s a shame then that so much of Dreaming Canvas feels unfinished. Some of the environments have invisible walls surrounding sections you shouldn’t be able to get too – but it’s very easy to walk past them by dropping off higher ledges and end up stuck walking on bodies of water with no way to get back. Because the environments have no objectives, there’s no guiding hand to keep you from going off the beaten track. In the 40 minutes it took me to reach every Canvas and Paintbrush collectable, I managed to get under the environments 3 times just by walking around. In the game’s description, it mentions the ability to “meet interesting other travellers along your journey” but the NPC’s just stand around with an idle animation. This means that a game that often looks lush on the outside feel distinctly lifeless while exploring. Several of the buildings have footings which are above the base terrain. The longer you spend in Dreaming Canvas, the longer you see the cracks in its pleasant exterior.
With simplistic systems, a run time of less than an hour and sections that feel unfinished, Dreaming Canvas is a relaxing yet shallow experience. There’s virtually no replayability with you being able to see everything this game has to offer, warts and all, in a single sitting. It’s environments are gorgeous at first glance but a lack of content means this game becomes bland and uninspired very quickly and it’s aim to inspire creativity falls flat.
Dreaming Canvas is available now on PS4 (review version) and Nintendo Switch.
Developer: Playstige Interactive
Publisher: Playstige Interactive
In order to complete this review, we purchased a copy of the game. For our full review policy please go here.
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