I went into both this year’s indie months with a healthy dose of optimism. I had a great time assembling the list of games we would cover and I looked forward to playing them, but it seems that many of the picks were… less than ideal. This theme continues with Back To Bed, a Danish puzzle game that I wasn’t very fond of at all.
Bob the Narcolept
In this game, you get to play as a strange creature, with the body of a dog, but the face of a man, who I chose to believe was Brown Jenkins from Dreams in the Witch House. You are charged with the protection of Bob, a man with a severe sleepwalking problem. In each level, you have to manipulate the stage in order to get Bob back to bed safely.
The levels are isometric places that bend and turn like an Escher painting. As Brown Jenkins, you have to pick up and move objects to form paths that Bob will follow. For example, you can position a giant apple in such a way that Bob runs into it, whereupon he will turn clockwise and move in another direction. A gap between platforms can then be filled in with a fish-shaped plank, allowing Bob to cross without falling.
The interesting bit is that the puzzles are not static. Bob will start to move seconds into a level and, with limited tools at hand, you’ll constantly be picking up and relocating objects to keep Bob going. This is both a blessing and a curse, as it’s a dynamic kind of puzzle-solving that I enjoyed, but it also means that you need to hurry to get objects into place. If Bob falls he’ll respawn at the start, forcing you to backtrack through the puzzle to get him back to where you failed. Some hazards, like the moving clocks, will even end the level entirely, forcing you to retry from the very start.
An issue, then, is that the game’s controls are unreliable at best. The game can be controlled with keyboard, mouse, or gamepad. In my case, I used the mouse for movement and the spacebar for picking up items. However, Brown Jenkins doesn’t always move along the paths as you expect, making especially stairs a struggle within the twisted, isometric view. The game is also indecisive about when you can and can’t pick up items, to the point where sometimes you can’t even pick up an item despite the game highlighting it.
The mouse pointer would also frequently vanish, leaving me disoriented and unsure of where I would move if I clicked. This is a problem because the game demands quick actions that might succeed or fail at the whims of these controls. On the flipside, some stages I would finish and look back on, fearing that my solution was unintended by the developers. With some quick actions, a good deal of the game’s small library of puzzles could be easily cheesed.
The game does throw some fun mechanics in as the puzzles proceed, such as mouths that will blow Bob away or the aforementioned clocks that must be tricked, but the game didn’t do enough, in my opinion, to keep up interest. Like with Crayon Physics Deluxe, I soon found myself working through the puzzles almost mindlessly. Unlike the Crayon game, however, the $6 asking price is a whole lot more fitting here.
Gameplay score: 4.5/10
While the puzzles aren’t the greatest, the art-design of Back To Bed is one I could appreciate. The levels are shaped in impossible ways like an Escher painting and you got all kinds of bizarre, surreal imagery going on, including obvious nods to Salvador Dali. Some levels are accompanied by strange dialogue and it’s all very pretty to look at. However, it’s a bit lame that the dialogue speeds up if you use the fast forward function to get Bob somewhere faster.
After some levels, you are also treated to nicely-drawn cutscenes that transition into the next batch of stages. Saying that the game has a story would go too far, however. The cutscenes just kind of look nice and even the commentary just serves to warn of new mechanics or provide some levity, often repeating again in later levels.
Presentation score: 7.5/10
Back To Bed is great if you feel like playing a very lightweight puzzle game with a neat concept and interesting mechanics. It does have a lot holding it back, though, which makes it hard to recommend outside of a sale.