Starting from a student project, Back to Bed comes from Bedtime Digital Games and is co-developed by Sony subsidiary Loot Interactive (co-developers of Velocibox and Whispering Willows). It tells a tale of a man named Bob who suffers from narcolepsy and whose dreams are composed of something that resembles one of M.C. Escher’s famous paintings (check Google if you somehow don’t know who he is). Checkerboard floors, melting clocks, flying bowler hats, eyeballs looking through window frames, and random tentacles are what fill the world around Bob and give this game a whimsical and strange atmosphere.
You play as Bob’s teal colored, goat-like, escort in the dream world. I really don’t know what to call it so let’s go with Bob-goat. It’s up to you playing as Bob-goat to guide the sleepwalking Bob through the platforms and stairs, making sure he doesn’t walk right off the edge. You’re able to pick up a large green apple and place it in the way of Bob to change his direction to lead him through a door and, as the name implies, back to bed. The game lets you know with a drowsy sounding voice-over that “sleepwalkers turn clockwise,” so every time Bob bumps into an object or wall he will turn accordingly. This is the main gameplay of Back to Bed. Bob slowly sleepwalks around in a straight line until either an object changes his direction clockwise or he steps right off the edge like a character from a Road Runner cartoon. Simple yet effective.
There are a few different obstacles that can get in your way during Bob’s dreams. You’ll encounter walking clocks (which are reminiscent of the playing card army from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland) that you can trick into walking right off the edge to their demise; dogs, though they can’t be fooled as easily; the occasional hole in the floor; tubes with lips on the end that blow out air forcing Bob to be thrown off course; fish you can pick up and place across gaps to create new paths; whale trains and tracks that Bob can’t cross or he’ll be run over; and portals that allow you to teleport around the puzzle. Despite these inventive aesthetics, it seemed as though an obstacle was introduced only to add something more to the game rather than based on necessity, and I never felt that these additions culminated in a clever way. I would have liked to see each obstacle strewn together in an interesting level design instead of used as a seemingly one time only trope.
An interesting feature to the gameplay, which was very welcoming in my opinion, was the ability to speed up time. Triangle is the fast forward button and holding it down allows the slumbering Bob to accelerate around the platforms at a much faster pace. This helped in many cases when I had to replay a puzzle a few times and was losing patience. This easily could have been an annoying aspect to the game and am thankful it was included.
Only taking me an hour and a half to beat the 30 levels, the game left a lot to be desired. I couldn’t believe a $15 game was that short. I didn’t want my adventures with Bob-goat to end so soon. It felt like I had just warmed up and was getting into a groove with the mechanics and puzzle style.
Luckily, after completing my first play through the nightmare mode was unlocked. It is essentially a new game plus, the same levels only this time you have to acquire a key before you can exit and reach the bed. For the hardcore puzzle gamers that want punishing levels, this is the mode for you. For my personal taste though I became quickly frustrated trying to figure out how I was supposed to manage retrieving the key and avoid walking off the edge in most cases. This is also where the game meets its (taking a coined phrase from the game) whale roads.
I thought the first 30 levels on normal mode were fairly easy. I also don’t believe I’m very good at puzzle games so when the nightmare mode was introduced as a new game plus the juxtaposition in difficulty was jarring. My expectations rose immediately after the first few minutes of playing as I imagined the insane puzzles I was going to have to solve later. When I imagined insane though I wasn’t anticipating rage inducing. It quickly sucked the fun out of the experience, and I was instead left with the urge to throw my Vita across the room. Balancing the difficulty in games is a hard thing to nail down, and this is where Back to Bed fails to accomplish something great. I was left in the ether of the normal puzzles being too simple and the nightmare puzzles being agonizingly tough.
The saddest part about this game is that it does so many things right but in the end drops the ball. It nails the ambiance of a psychedelic world. The gameplay mechanics are straight, to the point and easy to learn quickly, and the subtle story they weaved into such a small game is actually an engrossing allegory for the struggles of day to day life. But an overall let down of clever level designs combined with bad difficulty balancing make this game more of a missed opportunity. The game shines brightest with its quirkiness and appealing graphics, and that does go a long way in making this game very unique. Taking an iconic art style that is synonymous with mind-bending puzzles and crafting that into an actual interactive puzzle game is a brilliant idea. But having a great idea just isn’t enough.