Dreams are a tricky thing to work into stories. Because they’re essentially unlimited in possibilities, creators generally try one of two tracks: On one hand, someone can use the dreams to send a very pointed message, as happens in the Bible and Inception.
On the other, dreams can be used to throw as much crazy stuff as possible out there. Psycho Dream, as one might guess, tries the latter. If you’re a paid Nintendo Switch Online subscriber, it can be played right now by downloading the Super Nintendo Entertainment System app.
Records in Electronic Gaming Monthly indicate that Psycho Dream was at least reviewed by western media under the name Dream Probe, which implies that a western launch was planned at some point. But that never happened, and the game’s 1992 launch in Japan was its only release. At least until the game was released on Switch Online just as it was, with no translation of the game’s Japanese.
The plot of Psycho Dream looks at a world where a type of virtual reality entertainment called D-Movies has become incredibly popular. The ‘D’ stands for drug, if you weren’t sure if they were bad or not (I’m drawing this plot from Nintendo Life and Nintendo’s press release announcing the game’s release).
These movies entrance a young girl named Sayaka to the extent that she falls into a coma, so a team of “debuggers” named Ryo and Maria have to enter what Nintendo describes as a “terrifying fantasy game called Legend of the Fallen Capital” in order to save her.
I’m not entirely sure what’s going on here either.
Where the game really shines is in Ryo and Maria. Ryo is in a dashing white and red suit, brandishing a sword. Maria is essentially a dominatrix, wearing a tight black outfit, high heels, and swinging a cat-o’-nine-tails around to swat weirdo bugs and birds out of the sky.
Psycho Dream is very much a traditional side-scrolling action game. Ryo or Maria duck and dodge, swipe and take damage. The background of the game, as per the fantasy game Ryo and Maria are battling inside, appears to be a city under siege by aliens. At times the player is wandering around rooftops, dashing through office spaces, or traipsing across a highway overlooking the city skyline. Tentacles seem to seep through everything.
It takes a minute for Psycho Dream to truly get weird. What really helps are the power-ups, delivered by fallen enemies in the form of colored crystals. Playing through, I wasn’t entirely sure of how each crystal worked, exactly.
But at a certain point, the game allows the player to radically expand their attacks. With Ryo, I was suddenly shooting energy blasts in all directions. With Maria, I sprouted wings, making her appear like an early-aughts Pixel Doll.
The game is very much a hassle to get through with just base-level weapons but radically improves when these expanded attacks become available. The game seems in ways built around them: when barriers fall from the ceiling, blasts can ricocheted off them to get a pesky wall-hangers who drop tears of fire from above. What’s frustrating is that a single attack can make them vanish, without a clear way to get them back.
But chances are you are not playing a 1992 game called Psycho Dream in hopes that everything will make sense. It’s more likely you are playing for the level where purple globs on the wall spit out attacks while there’s a castle in the background, or the gorgeous pink and purple backgrounds of the fallen capital.
It’s a little frustrating to not understand precisely what’s going on in Psycho Dream, but, if you can’t read Japanese, the mystery of what the hell is going on might be part of the appeal.