I’m not a very good sleeper.
In fact, scratch that, I’m a great sleeper but I am so good at it that I can fall asleep practically anywhere and upon doing so I flat-out refuse to wake up. Those who are left in my unconscious presence are forced to lug me around like a sack of potatoes. Essentially, whenever my eyes are closed I become a liability, much to the chagrin of my girlfriend who can reel off lengthy tales about just how much of a nuisance I am when I’ve ventured into the land of nod.
My proclivity for drifting off into a heavy sleep leads me to sympathize with Bob, the narcoleptic man whom you’re tasked with protecting in Back to Bed. Bob can fall asleep in the oddest of places and the player, assuming the role of Bob’s dog-like subconscious Subob, must successfully guide him towards his bed as he sleepwalks in a perilous dream world.
The dream world in which the game takes place bears a resemblance to the art of Salvador Dali, with the infamous melted clock from The Persistence of Memory making several appearances. The visual style is certainly the most striking aspect of the game and suits its concept perfectly, replicating the surreal, disjointed landscape of the human subconscious in a manner which makes it immediately stand out among the crowd of quirky indie PC games that it can call its peers. Unfortunately, its gameplay fails to stand toe-to-toe with its unique art style, and beneath its inveigling attractiveness lies a puzzler that is surprisingly dull.
Back to Bed is an incredibly simple puzzle game. While this can sometimes benefit entries in this genre, it instead so stubbornly remains on the beaten path that it eventually fails to provide anything close to a hefty challenge. As Subob, you’ll spend the entirety of the game placing down oversized apples in his path in order to make him turn in a different direction. Bob can only rotate clockwise, though, so you must plan out the route you want him to embark upon accordingly; otherwise, you will lead him off the edge of the map to his doom.
Aside from the apple, only one other tool is at your disposal, in the form of a giant fish which you can lay down to form a makeshift bridge for Bob to cross. Sometimes there will be enemies and other obstacles placed in your path, such as alarm clocks that will startle Bob awake (which is a bad thing, apparently), pipes which shoot out gusts of wind, trains which will squish Bob beneath them and rabid dogs.
While I found myself succumbing to the various perils of the terrain quite a few times, each puzzle was easily solvable after a handful of attempts. There is a “Nightmare Mode” which ramps up the difficulty by a considerable amount, but it doesn’t make enough of a change in the game’s format to make it notable. In fact, it would have been preferable if this mechanic was introduced in the main game instead of as an unlockable feature, in order to add some variety into what is otherwise a decidedly one-note puzzle game.
Playing with a controller is recommended, but it should have been a requirement. Using the mouse and keyboard essentially means that you cannot “speed up” time which is assigned to the triggers of the controller, meaning you’ll be forced to spend each puzzle patiently waiting for Bob to slowly hobble around the map. Placing down apples and fish also becomes more of a chore using the W, A, S, and D keys, as it makes Subob’s movement more imprecise.
Unfortunately, developer Bedtime Digital Games just hasn’t packed enough into what is a very short game. While its budget price would indicate a shorter overall playtime, there are only two playable terrains feature just 15 short puzzles each. If you include Nightmare Mode you can bump the grand total up to 60 puzzles, but considering the mode's only slight twists on the game’s existing formula, they aren't totally new puzzles. All told, you can complete the entire game in a little over an hour.
It’s a shame that Back to Bed doesn’t offer more variety to the player, because its core concept and unique aesthetics are certainly intriguing. The narrative conveyed in charming cutscenes is relatively unexplored, and if it wasn’t bogged down by mundane puzzles, then it would’ve undoubtedly been a more memorable addition to the genre. As it stands, Back to Bed occupies an odd middle-ground, in that it manages to be both endearingly quirky yet fundamentally dull.
Code provided by publisher. Review based on PC version. Also available on Mac and Linux.