Horror takes the backseat in this narrative-driven puzzler starring a toddler in footy pajamas.
The first section of developer Krillbite’s the Sleep set the tone for a run-of-the-mill horror game. Look for an item to progress the narrative while avoiding the things that go bump in the night. The generic horror genre was quickly flipped on its head once things got weird.
Guiding you through this hellish night is the player’s only a friend, Teddy. Teddy walks, talks and even provides light in dark passages. He’s essential to navigation and provides ample foreshadowing for the game’s story. Teddy’s goal is make sure the toddler can find his mother so she can protect them from monsters that roam the house. To find her, Teddy leads the player through pipes that connect memories about the boy’s mother.
The memories will take you through a handful of bleak and twisted environments. A park, a demented marsh and even limbo await the child — each revealing more and more about the narrative.
Forget horror, if you want a truly frightening game, you won’t find it here. There are moments that are creepy, but ultimately Krillbite’s game is more of a puzzler with a dark, disturbing narrative. Without a doubt, the story in Among the Sleep is the game’s greatest accomplishment. Krillbite will take you places other developers have dared not tread.
To progress, the player must solve numerous puzzles nearly all of which require the toddler to drag a chair or box to reach something across the room. Occasionally, minor exploration is necessary to find keys or literal puzzle pieces, but in truth, most of what you’ll find in Among the Sleep are basic platforming puzzles that you’ve done elsewhere. Despite being a bit exhausting in the game’s later moments, the repetitive puzzle elements work in Among the Sleep because of the game’s story and setting. You’re a toddler who can’t run without tripping over your own feet. Of course the greatest obstacle for getting what you want are things out a reach.
Along the same lines, the game’s lack of combat also works in its favor. Games like Outlast (which I adore) prevent the player from engaging enemies in combat and instead rely on running and hiding. It’s hard to give yourself up to that kind of fantasy when you play as an adult character that is capable of fighting. In Among the Sleep, all enemies tower over the player, so it makes sense that you can’t fight back. All you can do is hide.
A game driven by a child’s naive attempt to find his mother works wonders for Among the Sleep’s flaws. I went in expecting horror but left feeling something totally different. Every time you think the game is going one way, it pivots and turns the obvious into the unexpected.
The mistakes made in Among the Sleep’s world navigation and puzzle elements will be forgiven when the roughly two-hour adventure comes to a close. You won’t be frightened but you’ll be shocked by the dark conclusion.
**Among the Sleep was reviewed on a retail PS4 using a press copy courtesy of Krillbite Studio.**