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Disney Dreamlight Valley early access review: a life-sim for Mickey stans

Pixar or it didn't happen

Disney Dreamlight Valley is a glittering life simulator in which you — having somehow slipped out of the real world into a kind of Disney-sponsored coma — find yourself living alongside all of your favourite intellectual property. Your mission? Emotionally manipulate the awful dog-beast Goofy by gifting him dandelions and bream until he becomes your best friend, then set about working on Scrooge McDuck and the rest.

Before we dive too far into this thing: if you’re here because you’ve got a kid and you just want to know if Disney Dreamlight Valley will make them happy, and that the rat from Ratatouille doesn’t say the f-word, and that at no point does Ariel drag herself onto the beach to try to recruit them into a multi-level marketing scam, then you’re golden. Disney Dreamlight Valley is a top-marks Animal Crossing rip-off that will make fans of too-big mice irreversibly giddy. Your children may eventually need a special operation to stop them smiling.

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One word of warning though. In its early access state, there are still some quest-breaking bugs. You might have to console a confused and heartbroken child when WALL-E refuses to become their friend because a fire extinguisher glitched out of their inventory, a situation no antenatal class can prepare you for. For older players and Rock Paper Shotgun freelancers who also love WALL-E and lost the fire extinguisher, please get in touch to learn more about my weekly support group.

Disney Dreamlight Valley takes many of its cues from Nintendo’s immensely popular life sim Animal Crossing, though instead of interacting with a cast of jabbering nobodies, your town is populated by a growing cast of beloved characters from Disney’s past and present, each one plucked from the voracious media empire’s ever-growing Katamari ball of copyright.

Whereas other life sims might have you out there collecting berries and wood to craft a birdhouse, in Disney Dreamlight Valley, it’s the likes of Mickey Mouse and his grotesque colleague Goofy asking you to collect berries and wood to craft a birdhouse. At times it can feel like being sentenced to community service by a mid-tier celebrity, like if you crashed your car into Florence Pugh’s shed, and now Florence Pugh is making you catch three different kinds of fish or else you’ll go to prison. It’s a bit like that.

The main goal in Disney Dreamlight Valley is to become best mates with absolutely everyone by plying them with gifts and attention until they finally admit that they love you

Despite the tedious scavenger errands, Disney Dreamlight Valley rarely tips into busywork. The universe rewards you with a constant stream of coins and items and recipes and orbs and shards for doing pretty much anything, making it difficult to avoid passively accumulating most of the stuff you need to complete quests anyway. But if there’s one currency Disney cares most about, it’s pure, uncut friendship – the main goal in Disney Dreamlight Valley is to become best mates with absolutely everyone by plying them with gifts and attention until they finally admit that they love you.

You can do this by asking a character to hang out, which forces them to run around behind you and wildly celebrate everything you do. Ask Goofy to hang out and every single action you take will increment your friendship rating. From pulling up carrots or hitting a rock to trying on some jorts, nothing you do can displease him. It is physically impossible to avoid becoming best friends with Goofy. Just by standing near him or looking vaguely in his direction, the bond of your friendship slowly calcifies whether you want it to or not, until he’s one day giving the eulogy at your funeral.

Other friends are available to hang out with too, and the game’s story revolves around visiting new realms to meet Disney characters and convince them to come live in your village and act as a kind of social buffer between you and the horrible long dog Goofy. These quests are way more interesting and characterful than the routine fetch quests around town, and once you’ve successfully recruited the likes of Moana, Ariel, and WALL-E to your ranks, you can set about levelling up your friendships with them too.

Just like in real life, a bigger friendship score bags you exclusive new stickers, wallpapers, clothing, and furniture for your home. Customising your character and your house is an entire game unto itself, and just like Tom Nook’s rotating selection of furniture and clothing in Animal Crossing, Scrooge McDuck’s store has fresh new Disney items for you to browse each day.

Themed sets of furniture and clothing let you work towards the greater goal of transforming your home and yourself to match your favourite Disney movie too. You can buy the frozen throne from Frozen, for example, then wear the frozen dress from Frozen, then sit on your Frozen throne in your Frozen dress as though you are Frozen herself.

For Disney fans big and small, the ability to dive face-first into magical worlds that defined so many childhoods, to meet all the characters and wear all the outfits, amounts to nothing less than a transcendental experience. Even a half-hearted Disney fan will get chills when the first rousing notes of ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’ fade in, right as you’re foraging for bits of old seaweed on the beach like a salty gremlin.

For terrible husk-people with no love in their heart, it’s a little harder to be forgiving of Disney Dreamlight Valley in its current state. Glitches are to be expected in early access, but quest-ending bugs and repetitive grinding put this life simulator on unsteady footing out of the gate. You’d have hoped Disney has deep enough pockets to spring for more voice-acting and properly animated cutscenes too, and the extortionate price of some of Scrooge McDuck’s items should give parents an early sense of unease. The game will be free-to-play when it launches in 2023, and the game’s monetisation mechanics aren’t yet implemented.

Still, many of the makings of a truly wonderful life simulator are in place already. It would only take a touch more magic to make Disney Dreamlight Valley really shine.

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