Disney Valley of Dreams has no right to be as good as he is. On paper, it’s a thinly veiled attempt to take a slice of the animal crossing magpie, a life simulation focusing on everyday tasks like farming, fishing, and cooking. Nintendo had well and truly cornered the market after New Horizons, I thought, so it was too little too late. Turns out I was wrong, and adding Disney IP makes that win THAT even better formula… in most areas.
Disney Valley of Dreams takes you to Dreamlight Valley, an outdoor children’s playground transformed into a vast world of wonder. The former ruler of this valley disappeared one day, leaving it and its people overrun by The Forgetting, which is…exactly what it sounds like. Everyone who’s lived here before has dispersed, with no memory of their time in this valley, and it’s up to us to, well, restore the magic.
Aside from the obvious metaphors about the transition from childhood to adulthood, finding the ancient inhabitants of Dreamlight Valley requires me to earn Dreamlight, a magical currency that allows me to unlock realms, special themed biomes of some of Disney’s iconic films and occupied by key characters from said films.
A beachside biome introduces me to Moana and Maui, a barren, desolate world that brings WALL-E into the fold, and a frozen tundra sees Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff join in the fun. By completing enough tasks for each character, you earn their home, which you can then add to your valley and unlock that character in your world. Traveling to each of these worlds is a nice escape from the valley itself, offering different things to do and breaking up the monotony of catering to the main world.
Once I start populating the world again, I must restore the region to its best. Bringing Dreamlight Valley back to its original luster captures very well the experience it is trying to emulate. The fishing rod allows me to collect the fish and resell them at the market. The shovel allows me to dig holes, where I can then plant seeds and water them with the watering can. There’s also a pickaxe that lets me mine special gems – adding a bit of Minecraft to that jambalaya – and a camera that once I start bringing people back to the valley lets me take a selfie with them.
That’s not all I can do, though, as I’m unlocking a crafting table soon that lets me build anything I need with the right resources. Similarly, once I unlock the stove in my house (or the restaurant in the valley), I can cook recipes that restore stamina, increase friendships with Disney icons walking around, and sell for a price. raised at Goofy’s kiosk. Cooking requires the right ingredients and a piece of coal, but some of the dishes I make look good enough to eat for real.
The kitchen mechanic reminds me of the biggest problem I have with Dream Light Valley so far: asking the player for impossible tasks. The game features quests and tasks in such a broad way that I sometimes find myself unable to complete them. In one instance, I’m at a restaurant and Moana sits down and asks for a certain meal. No problem, except that I don’t have access to some of the ingredients needed to cook said meal yet, it’s too early in the game. It’s frustrating, especially when the rewards and tasks are tied to the increasing friendship levels with characters and that cooking meals is a quick way to do that.
Similarly, when I met Maui in the Motunui biome and completed his tasks, he asked me to build him a house in the beach section of Dream Light Valley. That’s fine…except I hadn’t unlocked the beach yet, because I hadn’t completed the story task Merlin gave me to do so. I wonder why Maui’s “recruitment” missions were even available if I hadn’t completed the main task needed to recruit him in the first place. This creates a very dispersed experience, with a ton of plates spinning at once, and it can get overwhelming.
What makes the turntable approach worse is when Dream Light Valley just stop letting you progress after a while. Some tasks require certain resources, and after a while the game stops giving them to me for a while, forcing me to wait until later that day or even until the next day to continue. I can still talk with the characters, go fishing with them, etc., but even that has a limited lifespan since they end up going to bed. I have never heard of a game actively pushing me to stop play for a while, but Dream Light Valley does this… and I don’t understand why.
That said, much of it feels like a retread, with very little its Nintendo predecessor hasn’t already done. However, Disney Valley of Dreams has a silver bullet, part of its identity that frankly bears on being one of the best life sims available, and it’s right there in the name. It looks like Gameloft gave free rein to Disney’s IP when making this game, and they are absolutely ran with her with amazing results. Scrooge McDuck is this game’s version of Tom Nook, the greedy but surprisingly helpful shopkeeper where you buy furniture, clothes, and more. Merlin, Goofy and Mickey Mouse show you around the island. The kitchen mechanic is led by, of course, Rémy de Ratatouille. There are references on every corner and everyone makes me smile.
For example, let’s talk about Dreamlight Valley cosmetic offers for a second. Currently in my house I have two chairs: one is Gaston’s wooden chair from Beauty and the Beast, the other is Elsa’s ice throne. There’s an entertainment center on the wall designed with the colors of Buzz Lightyear, a massive window that looks like it overlooks Walt Disney World’s castle rests on the back wall, and a radio ripped straight from Mickey’s Toontown Fair. in Orlando rests on the table. It’s everything I loved about Animal Crossing’s customization, injected with Disney flair, and it’s hard to deny that appeal.
Speaking of radio, the in-game music is perhaps the best use of the Disney license. From original music to adaptations of classic Disney songs, every track I’ve heard so far has given me goosebumps. There’s a piano-centric version of Into The Unknown from Frozen 2 that soothes the soul, while the adventurous sounds of How Far I’ll Go make me want to go on an adventure every time I hang out at Moana’s. If you’re a Disney music fan, the deals here won’t disappoint.
Disney Dreamlight Valley is still in early access, so there are some notable issues to address (story progression!). However, when the game is cooking – no pun intended – it’s blazing. Completing quests and winning the friendship of these iconic characters is fun, the different biomes I can explore offer plenty to do (for a while), and the overall feeling of magic and fantasy is infectious. It’s hard not to smile while playing Disney Dreamlight Valley; I can only hope the magic continues for the foreseeable future.