Back to Bed: Perchance to dream
Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Dreams are a fascinating part of the human mind. It is one the most mysterious functions of the brain. The question for the reason behind dreaming and its propose has puzzled physiologists for decades. Could it be as a means of preparing us for possible flight or fight situations? Is it the subconscious trying to tell you something? What is up with that gimp suit again? Artistic and narrative media have been either been trying to answer these questions or trying to replicate the atmosphere of dreams (see any David Lynch movie for the latter). Back to Bed is does not really try to answer these questions. It does not really do much with dream like imagery either.
Back to Bed does not have a plot. This in of itself is not a problem per say. Rayman Legends is one of my favourite games and Rayman's adventure is as thin as the sheet of paper it was written on. A game does not need a plot to be good per say. However a little bit of context can add a lot to an experience. Even more so if the gameplay loop is not especially compelling, there is a missed opportunity for subtle characterisation in Back to Bed.
Bob is utterly devoid of personality, he is merely a husk that needs to be pushed from point A to B. Dreams are normally associated with emotional logic and subconscious fears/ desires, Bob is completely bland. He might have a fear of dogs (they are one of the few enemies and failure states in the game). But that is it. Subob (his subconscious in the form of a dog with his face) has some character traits. He is caring towards Bob with almost fatherly concern.
Asides from that he is strange because of dreams. Speaking of which, the dreamscapes themselves are lacking in personality. They are surreal, yes but in practice, a cocktail of discount Alice in Wonderland motifs smashed together without heed for metaphor or symbolism. There was a great chance to give Bob a character through the various dreamscapes he travels through. But instead all we have are chess pieces with wings, chess board floors and clocks with arms and hands. Bedtime Digital had the opportunity to let their imagination run wild but instead remained rather uninspired.
The primary goal in each level is to get Bob to his bed. The main gameplay loop of achieving this goal is by guiding Bob to the bedroom by manipulating his movements. As loops go it is highly polished, simple but highly effective. As Subob, you have to make the terrain traversable for Bob. Bob always moves clockwise, so Subob has to place apples to push Bob into the right direction.
Apples also have to be used in order to alter the patrol routes of the two enemy types. As a mechanic goes its perfectly solid. The process of grapping and placing can be a little fiddly at times (keep in mind that I used keyboard and mouse as my controller is not responding currently, this should be fixed with a controller). The lack of enemy verity and behaviour (they are an instant death trigger and they petrol a certain route. All you get is a dog and a alarm clock. ) is disappointing and similarly lacking in imagination.
The difficulty curve
The puzzles themselves, while not badly designed per say, has no difficulty curve what so ever. For a majority of the game I simply breezed through. Then sometimes I would suddenly get smacked by a puzzle that forces me to spend ten minutes or more on. After I eventually solve it I breeze through another sequence of puzzles as if nothing had happened. There is no continual escalation in difficulty in the design. Instead it reads as more as the heartbeat monitor a long flat line and the occasional blip.
The puzzles go from very obviously laid out to strangely obtuse with no sense of build up. This is odd as new mechanics are introduced throughout, but the puzzles themselves do not get harder. Then the difficultly spikes for no good reason a couple of levels after the mechanic is introduced. Suddenly you are expected to guide Bob though a Rube Goldberg machine, before suddenly returning to simplicity in the next level.
The new game plus
Back to Bed is rather short game (two worlds and fifteen levels per world). This is not necessarily a bad or good thing if the gameplay is good. Don’t get me wrong, Back to Bed is perfectly fine gameplay wise (unstable difficultly curve not withstanding). Because the game was majority fairly easy I was intrigued by what new game plus would offer. Literally all that is added is a key to unlock the door to the bedroom. It’s difficult in the same way as finding a lost key might be difficult. All the game can offer is an inconvenience, an annoyance that draws out the level rather then make it challenging (like adding one of the two enemies to mix things up). In this aspect it is rather disappointing.
Graphics and Art style:
Lack of imagination in the visuals aside. Back to Bed does capture the atmosphere of a dream very well. Salvador Dali’s work comes to mind, namely the Persistence of Memory painting. Even if Back to Bed is creatively uninspired. It does however have very unique in its presentation.
Back to Bed is surprisingly unremarkable. It is perfectly fine as games go but otherwise a rather forgettable experience. It’s a shame to be honest. Back to Bed could have been a great game purely on the visuals alone. But unfortunately it is like a Pringle, tastes nice while it is there, does little to offend but otherwise leaves little impact.
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