By: Mike Chen
Among the Sleep immediately stands out with the premise of looking through a toddler’s imagination. However, beneath the surface lie darker themes and some mechanical issues with controls and physics.
CONTROLS (3/ 5)
Despite being a first-person experience, the controls for Among the Sleep aren’t as complicated as your standard FPS. You’ll basically just need to move around and grab stuff; for movement, the standard dual analog scheme is applied though the circle button switches between crawling and walking (crawling is faster, walking has better reach). The “X” button allows you to climb certain surfaces as well. Square hugs your teddy bear, which illuminates some dark areas.
Manipulating your environment by grabbing objects (R1) is central to puzzle solving, though the real-time physics used for grabbing and dragging items around can be clunky and frustrating. Now, that may be the point given that you’re a toddler, but it still makes for some cumbersome mechanics.
Originally a Steam release, Among the Sleep isn’t a graphical powerhouse, but it makes up for it in the authenticity of the experience. As a toddler, the game gets movement and feel down to represent the limited mobility and knee-high perspective of the world. The sound design is a crucial aspect of this, as it helps evoke the unbound imagination of a child, where an everyday sound to an adult may come across as something wild and wooly to a child.
Note that those sensitive to first-person motion sickness may feel queasy quickly with the toddler walking. I personally have only had motion sickness experience with two games (Mirror’s Edge and Killzone 2), and within 10 minutes I got the same feeling here.
There’s also a bit of a dark undercurrent to the game’s theme, and not just in the Tim Burton-esque atmosphere of the toddler’s imagination. More on that below, but the voice performance and visuals adapt to reflect this, and it’s so effective that it might feel triggering to anyone who has suffered from abuse.
The basic pitch for Among the Sleep is that you are a toddler exploring his young imagination by following a teddy bear come to life. Although exploration and rudimentary puzzle solving drive the game, there are story elements that push the player forward, some through audio/visual cues and other times through found toddler drawings. For the PS4 version, developer commentary is also available by activating icons throughout the environment.
Puzzles aren’t particularly complex, though sometimes the physics get in the way, leading to some frustrating trial and error. Other times, puzzles involve exploration/fetch quests that can become repetitive once the novelty of the environment wears off. This slows down the gameplay, which means that your drive to finish the game depends mostly on your investment in the semi-fantastical story.
Speaking of that story, it’s hinted early on that the game is a young child’s imaginary projections of living in an abusive environment. One of the first scenes has you hide in the closet, only to have footsteps and ominous noises approach. I know someone who found this particularly difficult given that person’s childhood situation, so be warned that the game’s ultimate themes may feel uncomfortable for some.
With a unique gameplay pitch and setting, Among the Sleep offers a new experience despite being hampered by its own mechanics. The game’s juxtaposition of innocence and darker adult themes may be a bit much for some, though the eyes of a toddler provide a unique perspective found nowhere else in the gaming landscape.