Though we often remember our worst nightmares and wake up feeling refreshed from the best of dreams, the majority of our sleep—at least, what we remember of it—is generally uneventful. That’s more or less the case with Back to Bed, a gorgeous, dreamy trip on the surface that’s backed by an often soporific game underneath. Similar to The Bridge, only easier, the game combines Escherian architecture with a distinct Dali-esque surrealism, but, like most dreams, it fails to hold up under scrutiny.
To begin with, there are only two visual palettes—Rooftop Troubles, with its flowerpots full of eyes and sideways chimneys, and Harbour Hazards, whose clams have pearlescent peepers—and about as many musical cues. And though the game throws a few different hazards your way, from baleful alarm clocks to barking dogs, those 30 levels are navigated largely in the same fashion each time. Subob, narcoleptic Bob’s spirit-goat companion, picks up green apples (in the style of Magritte’s Son of Man) and places them in Bob’s otherwise straightforward path. Each time he hits an object, he turns right and trudges on—ideally, toward his bed. (In the more advanced “Nightmare” mode, a remix of these levels, Subob must ensure that Bob’s path overlaps with the various keys locking his bedroom door, but it’s a minor and dull complication.)
At first, Back to Bed is pure charm: Bob blithely walks across ties, knives, chess pieces, ignorant of the Cthulhian horrors flapping out of his subconscious. Subob, untroubled by physics, uses transparent staircases to walk up walls and transports himself through portals, all the while collecting the fruit and fish that he’ll need to guide Bob to his bed. Then the game begins to toss and turn, tricking players with puzzles it hasn’t adequately explained (Subob’s unnatural range for picking up objects) or with optical illusions (in which gaps can actually be crossed). The inventive parts come in fits and starts, if at all, until suddenly, having laid all its cards on the table, Back to Bed is little more than a chore, and who spends their waking dream sitting dutifully at a cubicle?
Back to Bed’s core concept is engaging, and there’s even a delightful pun or two to be found in this largely text-less adventure (my favorite occurs when Bob attempts to cross “whale road” tracks, only to be run over by a cetacean). But—snooze alarm!—the fundamental puzzles, especially the ones that revolve around a speedy execution rather than an intellectual one, aren’t nearly as creative as the dream world they’re nestled within.
Back to Bed is available today on Steam from Bedtime Digital Games.