Dreii PS4/Vita Review
Fresh, fun approach to multiplayer
Enjoyable co-op play
Cross-buy for PSVITA and PS4
Inconsistent level design
Performance issues on the PSVITA
Small online player base
Tedious, unfulfilling solo play
Uninspired level design
No cross-save or local co-op
Poor adaptation to Dualshock 4 and VITA controls
At first glance, Dreii looks like elegant puzzler, efficient and a minimalist. However, looks can be deceiving. Dreii is an award-winning, physics-puzzler by Etter Studio, originally developed for iOS and Android and now available on PSN to cross-buy for PS4 and PSVita. It’s a physics puzzler about improvising and finding multiple solutions to a single problem, rather than perfect mechanical solutions. This creative, very human concept shines in the game’s clever, voiceless multiplayer but, thanks to some wonky controls, underwhelming puzzle design, and negligible online community, that often leads Dreii to feel plain and undercooked rather than an exercise in humanity.
All throughout, players are tasked with reaching one or more hovering dots in a 2.5D room by dragging, dropping, stacking, and balancing prisms. Rather than having a single, refined answer to each puzzle, players are invited and at times forced to experiment to invent slapdash solutions. Sometimes, this means scrambling together some wonky scaffolding or getting a circle to balance just long enough to complete the level. Obstacles like pulsing wind that can knock over your blocks, fragile blocks that will drop if players move too fast, varied centers of gravity, and water that causes objects to constantly bob add pleasant variables to the challenge and make the voiceless multiplayer that much more playful.
The notion of improvised solutions sounds great but in execution often left me with little gratification. Most puzzle designs felt uninspired and witless and generally didn’t get me to feel accomplished at their completion, especially when playing solo. In fact, many puzzles seemed explicitly designed to only be enjoyable within online play. Throughout my solo experience, I was taken aback multiple times as I would realise how stupidly inefficient my solutions could be and still succeed. Multiplayer was indeed fun but, despite the boasted shared servers between all of Nintendo Wii U, Android, PC, Mac, Linux, and PS platforms, I hardly ever saw more than a two people online. Joining their online games was seamless and worked without a hitch though I ultimately spent most of my playthrough alone completing the dull puzzles. At least for the PS4 version, developers would’ve done well to include local multiplayer. I imagine couch-co-op could’ve been a great selling point for the title that totally missed.
A good deal of Dreii’s challenge involves not only creating solutions but properly executing them. It’s easy enough to understand you need to stack this brick here, that one there, but actually getting the building blocks to stack up is the trick. However, due to some flimsy controls, this simple concept can quickly become a tedious chore. While the PS4’s Dualshock 4 yielded markedly better results than the Vita’s tiny joysticks, neither felt precise. When dragging an object, a slight tilt on the joystick and my character would move incredibly slowly; a somewhat slighter tilt and my character would rocket across the room. The Vita’s touch-screen functionality lets characters to move in response to individual presses of the screen but doesn’t allow you to drag your finger to control your character, precluding any fluid or nuanced movements. Really, it comes off as fake difficulty born from poor adaptation to either platform.
Even the simplest puzzles in Dreii have potential be fun when playing with a stranger. Navigating each puzzle without direct mic communication proved playful, exciting, and even frustrating but never without charm. In this way, Dreii succeeds in crafting a unique experience, focusing the challenge on proper multiplayer cooperation over the design of each puzzle. However, set aside the online community and you’re sadly left with truly forgettable puzzles and a bore of an experience. The game’s overall level designs simply do not stand on their own. Sure, there are a few clever moments to be found but without any friends or strangers to play with many are exposed as duds.
Levels span across six mildly themed worlds. I say “mildly” because, for example, the implied “water” world features plenty of levels that have nothing to do with water. Sure, the first one has you balancing bricks on a floating platform as it bobs up and down. But then the next sends you back to stacking bricks on solid ground again. The same goes for the rest of the worlds. It’s like developers could only come up with so many variations to the same mechanic. And so, the game’s constellation of “worlds” instead feels like one big slop of stages.
Some levels on the VITA can feel impossible when playing solo. Despite the touchscreen and joystick controls, navigating the small puzzle space is arduous. Certain levels that send wind to topple your totem are several times harder on the VITA than on the PS4, as players aren’t allotted even a second more time between breezes. Other puzzles that simply require careful placement and balancing acts comparatively don’t play well, as the VITA joysticks offer a much lesser degree of expression than the Dualshock 4. Virtual movement isn’t universally compatible. As such, compensatory mechanical or accessibility adjustments are often utilized to aid the transition between consoles. The VITA’s playability is in need of rebalancing. It just isn’t fun when your controller becomes your primary obstacle. I understand that it wouldn’t be practical to adjust the properties of levels on the VITA versus the Android or Wii U because it would’ve tampered with the title’s cross-compatibility; however, I believe the novelty of cross-platform multiplayer should not have taken precedence over playability. Etter Studio’s failure to rebalance somewhat defeats the title as a viable title for the VITA.
Furthermore, to call the Dreii’s performance on VITA “poor” would be an understatement. It’s totally unacceptable. The wordless level menu you’re thrown into as soon as you boot up the game runs at what I’d guess is somewhere between 10-15 frames-per-second. Sure, it’s just a menu; however, given that the menu is featured prominently in establishing the game’s overall aesthetic, glancing over it isn’t so simple. You’re treated to the stuttering mess of a menu every time you complete a level as well as an inconsistent albeit slightly better frame-rate inside levels. There isn’t a cross-save feature to carry your progress across platforms either. It wouldn’t be such a bother if the game’s player base were larger to help keep things fun. As a result, I had to complete both versions of Dreii not once but twice to gain access across the map.
Dreii on PS4 and VITA isn’t much more than a bad port story. Perhaps the experience on different platforms would prove more fair – I imagine the Wii U with its stylus and gamepad could be a good fit; however, on the PS4 and VITA, the playful concepts of improvisation and chatless teamwork break under the weight of the poor control implementation and a negligible online community. With the terrible state of the VITA version, half of Dreii’s PSN cross-buy is nearly unusable. Furthermore, once its small online community wanes, your copy of Dreii will become nothing but a barren bore.