Platform: Xbox One
Developer: Krillbite Studio
Publisher: Krillbite Studio
Release date: June 2, 2016
Genre: Horror Adventure
Nerd rating: 8 out of 10
During Sleep takes the survival-horror element of an underperforming main character and ramps it up to 11 by casting its lead in a snot-faced two-year-old.
It’s no secret that a toddler’s bread and butter is absolute crap when it comes to doing anything other than drooling over a brand new onesie. There is an evolutionary principle at work here that drives people insane about the clumsy misadventures of what I like to call “the unevolved we.”
The survival horror genre has always been known for pitting a relatively weak protagonist against his supernatural creatures.
When I say “weak,” remember that in video games it’s common for a gunshot wound to be repairable with a band-aid that must be in a medication kit (ladies and gentlemen, Doom Guy).
Contrast this with the likes of pioneers of the survival horror genre – Silent Hill, for example, sends poor, hapless Harry into a misty world of angular anthromorphs and demonic dogs. Harry is armed only with an extremely fragile barrel and an extremely limited supply of bullets, which this unskilled marksman may or may not be able to shoot down his targets w
Well, what’s more defenseless than a toddler?
This convention makes many aspects of the game more challenging than you might expect. Movements are generally devoid of finesse and coordination, and to be faster than a toddler requires crawling. Just opening a door can be a test.
Events begin to unfold on our avatar’s second birthday in footpyjamas.
Just when you thought mom was going to creepily send you the cake full of cakes to sleep, there’s a knock on the door, a heated argument ensues, and your vision blurs – the baby is upset.
Then Mama drags you upstairs and leaves you in bed for a moment. Things have already gotten troubling. You just never realize how spooky a child’s room can be. Everything that furnishes the room is harmless, but it has an air of darkness about it. Furnishings only. The aimless gaze at stuffed animals and cartoonish flourishes on the walls, not to mention the edgy house design.
Then your teddy bear named Teddy crawls out of the toy box and says hello before suggesting you go somewhere really dark to see something cool.
They go into the closet, which through childish imagination turns into a huge, dark maze. Hanging cloaks seem to press on you, turning into creepy, bossy ghosts. The closet seems endless. It is so dark. Teddy says it’s scary here and that he doesn’t like it.
Does that sound completely crazy?
Needless to say, by the time Mom finds you and puts you to bed, things are already so crappy. Waking up in the middle of the night to see Teddy, groggily dragging his leg, slinking down the hall while the lights go out seems perfectly normal.
Strolling through the impossibly dark and spooky house, you hear something that seems to be screaming desperately in the hallway. It seems to come from the washing machine.
Into the unknown
This is during sleep at its scariest — almost frightening. Before you even know what the rules are, you, as a toddler, are tasked with wandering around a dark, spooky house on your own.
The theme continues to work well while showing off the puzzle elements that make up most of the game. There’s something about sneaking around at this early stage before you even know what to expect or how far the game is willing to go in terms of scares that makes the accumulation of possibilities almost unbearable.
Heck, I’ll admit I had to take a little break after entering the creepy closet with Teddy.
Of course it got a little quieter. In the first real phase, you collect memories in hopes of using them in some way to bring your mother closer. Now the world has loosened up a bit and become a childish fusion of the home environment and various play/outdoor areas that the child must see.
In other stages, your defenseless toddler will hide from monsters as you work your way through dark, spooky terrain.
The Mechanics of Foot Pajama Adventures
As already mentioned, our hero is particularly fresh-faced and not particularly good at life. In fact, when Teddy first emerges from the toy box, he tries to strike up a conversation before relenting, “Not that good at talking?”
This puts us at the helm of an intentionally clumsy and uncoordinated avatar. For example, opening a door becomes an adventure. First, you need to lean on something, as doorknobs tend to be higher than toddler hands.
After unlocking the door this way, you have to push against it, and it’s a slow, unsteady movement that makes sense when you consider that one of your most recent mental developments is object permanence
It makes sense that crawling would be faster than the strenuous new mechanic called walking, but to be able to interact with the environment extensively you’ll need to be standing. This awkward reminder never lets the player forget that you’re in a drooling kid’s pajamas.
However, it must also be pointed out that for the same reason, while sleeping your toddler is really the seal among toddlers, able to crawl through narrow passages and pull himself up on higher surfaces. Perhaps the child follows his mother’s P90X DVDs.
Teddy is the voice of reason, guiding you and following you wherever you go. He spends most of the game on the backs of our two kids. You can “hug” him, he says, and you’ll feel a little more secure. This essentially makes Teddy a dim lantern, useful in the dark world from time to time while sleeping.
Interestingly, Teddy was originally intended to be the antagonist during sleep , which explains an initial sense of unfaithfulness and a slightly spooky vibe around him.
Since While Sleeping the protagonist’s head is still under serious development, puzzles, of course, are not particularly intellectual. These are relatively simple complexes of tasks, which mainly involve looking for parts and hiding from monsters.
The game has received some criticism for its puzzling scheme, but to me the rather simple and occasionally nonsensical tasks fit together in a way that might make sense to a relatively new brain. They integrate well and push the story forward. And the task of this game is largely to tell a story.
And a story well told while you sleep, certainly. In this regard, the game is almost flawless. Without giving too much away, topics such as abuse, abandonment and addiction are effectively addressed. Seeing these elements through the eyes of a toddler is truly fascinating and it takes some time to figure out what is actually going on in our poor baby’s world.
It’s interesting when, as a player, you can understand things that seem abstract to the character. In addition, you may notice things that have no meaning for the baby you control. In the very first scene, observant gamers may notice the brown line on the wedding ring where Mom’s wedding ring used to be. These touches are awesome and pulled me straight into the world.
All of this leads us to an ending that comes as a bit of a surprise, although there was enough evidence by the finale that one is really just looking for confirmation.
While Asleep isn’t perfect, but for such a well-told story and mechanic that this reviewer found quite clever, it’s a definite win in my opinion. It doesn’t have the same scary factor as its bigger siblings in its genre, but then again it doesn’t try. The distorted and infantile perspective leaves the player guessing as to which of the game’s events are truly supernatural or influenced by a young, struggling ghost grasping at straws to make sense of his surroundings.
It should also be noted that during sleep is rather short. I beat it in less than five hours of play. But what a great five. I practically couldn’t turn it off.
Note: Doc Croc wrote a great review of the PS4 version which you should read here.