Review: Back to Bed24 Sep 2014 0
If a game is also a piece of surrealist art, can its shoddy controls and weak design be treated as an intentional part of its message? “It’s a commentary on the futility of trying to control our own lives,” says the e-cigarette-puffing hipster [watch it -- ed.] in this hypothetical App Store art gallery I just invented. “You just don’t get it maaaaan.”
Back to Bed makes no such explicit excuses for its many flaws, but tries to coast on on its Daliesque aesthetic far longer than it can get away with. Once the veneer of weirdness wears thin you’ll find little but frustration beneath. There seems to be a surplus of games like this on the App Store lately, with striking visuals quickly giving way to underwhelming mechanics.
You play Back to Bed as a four-legged human-faced… thing shepherding a sleepwalker across hazardous rooftops. Bob, your somnambulist charge, will walk in a straight line until he hits an obstacle, when he will turn clockwise. Your job is to pick up oversized apples to place in Bob’s way, so that he will eventually make the twists and turns needed to end up safely in his bed. No it doesn’t make much sense, but it fits right in with the dreamlike logic of a surrealist world.
So this is a puzzle game, one where the player is manipulating the world to guide dimwitted but predictable NPCs to the goal. But you're still a character within it. A difficult-to-control character, guided by tapping your destination on the screen. A character that never seems to pick up or drop the damn apple when and where you want him to.
Ready or not, Bob will start sleepwalking a few seconds into the level. This will inevitably lead to him stumbling off the rooftops before you’ve prepared a proper path. This, at least, just means he starts back from the beginning, eternally falling and trying again until you’ve finally managed to line everything up just right. If he hits one of the nefarious living alarm clocks that prowl some levels, however, it’s game over. The distinction feels arbitrary -- why is the alarm clock worse than plummeting off of the roof?
Back to Bed goes out of its way to artificially inflate its difficulty. Sometimes to get the apples you need you must climb a staircase which lets you walk up walls. A neat visual, sure, but completely unconnected to the rest of the mechanics and way more difficult than it needs to be thanks to the inept controls. It’s not part of the puzzle, it’s just a chore. Often the game doesn’t provide you enough apples to create complete paths, meaning you will need to place one, wait for Bob to hit it, pick it up, then rush over to where it needs to be next. Did I mention how frustrating it is to pick up and drop these damn apples? It’s pretty frustrating.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with a game that prizes style over substance, as long as the substance isn’t actively bad enough to prevent you from enjoying yourself. At first Back to Bed seems to ape the lovely Monument Valley, a wonderful little game that prized surprising and delighting its players over challenging them.
But Back to Bed neither surprises or delights. It throws some weird visuals at you, then repeats its small handful of ideas ad nauseum while you trudge through its annoying stages. Monument Valley ended quickly, leaving you wanting more. Back to Bed outstays its welcome within just a few levels.
And if a game is going to live and dies on aesthetics, shouldn’t they at least be good? Back to Bed’s textures are bland, its levels repetitive. The art is initially appealing but that appeal starts to wane when you realise you've seen almost all of the visual elements within the first few minutes of playing. Back to Bed has achieved the unthinkable: it makes surrealism boring.