Conversation surrounding Media Molecule and Dreams is bittersweet at the moment; the game's arrival on PS Plus precedes the developer taking a step back from its creation platform and, largely, moving onto pastures new. However, it's important to remember the studio's efforts that led us to this point. It's been supporting Dreams consistently for about three and a half years, in that time releasing several original games, holding many annual events, improving its efforts to curate community content, and gradually perfecting the in-game tool set. While the game never truly found the mainstream success it needed, this final burst of activity has given it a well-deserved lift, and Tren is a wonderful way for the studio to cap things off.
Tren is an arcadey puzzle game about the titular toy train and its accompanying wooden play set. Each level has you traversing tracks and solving simple environmental puzzles to reach the finish. While most stages have target times to beat, some are slower paced, focusing on delivering cargo and commandeering other tiny vehicles. It's an incredibly charming setup that's helped along by stunning presentation and unique gameplay.
As you'd expect, it starts off simply and gradually adds challenge and complexity. Your little Tren can only move along the tracks, but that doesn't mean it's easy. As it's almost entirely physics-driven, speeding around corners or moving too slowly up a loop-de-loop will see you crash or fly off course, so there's a certain level of finesse required as you move through a level. That being said, you can whizz through a lot of the track using boost if you're trying to secure those gold medals. Better still, you can perform flips if you have enough air off a jump, and doing so reduces your time.
Controls are very straightforward, although there are one or two quirks that may cause frustration. When you come to a switch on the track, you can hold the left stick in the direction you want to travel, and it'll take you that way. It's a similar solution for midair flips, too. However, this can feel a little inconsistent, because the direction you need to input depends on the camera's position. For example, let's say the camera is looking side-on at Tren on its right; you reach a switch and need to turn left. Rather than pushing left on the analogue stick, you'll need to push up to make the turn. It takes a bit of getting used to, and can cause one or two headaches in the early goings.
Even with that small wrinkle, though, the gameplay overall is great. Flitting about in the little battery-powered Tren is a joy, boosting over ramps and finding cargo to pull to the goal. There are some minor bugs relating to collision, which can derail your attempts, but we only encountered these once or twice. The novelty of playing as a miniature train on Brio-like tracks never goes away, either, and that's not just because of all the to-scale set dressing keeping things grounded. It's also because the game is constantly introducing new ideas. Buttons that operate gateways, lifts, gravity-defying magnetic tracks, new cargo types, new vehicles — there's so much imagination and variety throughout the game's 95 levels. If anything, some of Tren's ideas are underutilised, as it quickly moves onto something fresh.
Alongside the main run of levels are a small selection of special stages that hide some of the game's most inventive experiments. One has you picking up and delivering sweets, requiring you to tread lightly so they don't fall. Another adds a jump function to Tren itself, providing all new possibilities in one of the most fun and most challenging tracks. Yet more are delightful explorations of Media Molecule's past that fans will adore.
Levels spread out from three hub worlds, all based in a large attic filled with old toys and other miscellaneous bric-a-brac. These objects wind up in the levels themselves, often setting up cute little scenes or evoking a particular mood or time period. The whole game has a wistful, nostalgic feel, and the presentation — along with the brilliant soundtrack — will hit home for practically everybody, no matter what you grew up with. While there's no overt story to speak of, the environmental objects subtly guide you through one person's journey to adulthood, and it's surprisingly effective. There's even a photo mode to let you explore each diorama in detail.
Overall, it feels as much a Media Molecule game as LittleBigPlanet or Tearaway. It's similarly light and playful, cheekily humorous, and full of real heart. And, like its older titles — and Dreams itself — it embraces that Play, Create, Share ethos. While the campaign alone is well worth checking out, the Tren Set lets you go nuts building your very own courses. Featuring over 550 pieces, vehicles, and gadgets, this is easily the largest kit Media Molecule has put together for Dreams. Moreover, the introduction of Snap Points to create mode makes building Tren tracks nice and easy. If you're interested in this half of Tren, we'd definitely recommend checking out the tutorials found in DreamShaping; these go over how to lay out track pieces and wire up logic so you can do it yourself.
That's ultimately the beauty of making Tren using Dreams — it has built-in tools that let players create their own levels and share them with others. While this is absolutely something that could've been released standalone, it works perfectly within its surroundings. We can confidently say Tren is the best game in Dreams, and a lovely swansong from Media Molecule.
Have you played Tren in Dreams? Will you be making your own levels with the kit, or just enjoy the official campaign? Discuss in the comments section below.