I just finished playing the Enhanced Edition of Among the Sleep, a puzzle-horror indie game made by Krillbite Studio. It was originally a thesis project at the University of Hedmark in Norway, but the creators were able to complete the project after a successful Kickstarter campaign and bring it to the public.
The game begins on your character’s second birthday. The opening scene is brightly lit and full of serene music as your mother choo-choo trains some cake into your mouth and presents you with a festive, pink-wrapped gift.
But as you might imagine, this safe space doesn’t last.
You wake up late at night with your new teddy conspicuously missing and set off to wonder the sinister halls of your house alone. You find your teddy, but getting back might not be as easy.
You’ve stumbled into a nightmare realm where some of the items and images you’ve seen around your home have been distorted into ghoulish versions of themselves while others have become keys to moving forward, with Teddy reminding you all the while that, “we have to find your mother.”
Putting the player in the role of a toddler definitely distinguishes Among the Sleep from other kinds of survival horror like Bioshock or Resident Evil, because you’re character is completely helpless. There’s no chance of fighting and half the time you can’t even run away. This game is exclusively about stealth and the ability to solve puzzles quickly. That’s where the tension comes in.
The images in the beginning of the game feel fairly generic and I found the basic controls difficult to maneuver, but some of the psychological elements are really effective as the game goes on. Climbing through narrow hallways full of long coats becomes a terrifying experience from the perspective of a two-year-old. You are at knee height to most adults, so it’s impossible to know which of them might be hiding a malicious enemy and which is just an empty coat. There are also a lot of little sketches on walls that look like the protagonist drew them, but hint at a much more upsetting home life than what was depicted in the beginning.
I don’t want to get any more into the story than that because the real charm of this game is in the discovery of little hints that allow you to move forward.
The overall design is good. The levels are properly spooky, the enemies strike the appropriate amount of willies, and I personally found the toddler’s walking animation to be about the most adorably awkward thing ever.
It also only took me about two and a half hours to beat, which was the perfect amount of time to spend with a game like this.
My main issues were the jaggedness of the controls and how a lot of the settings, while eerily charming, look very similar. This adds to their dream-like quality, but also makes it easy to get turned around which can be needlessly frustrating.
So what’s the verdict?
For all of its flaws, I think this game is still getting a thumbs-up from me. It has some fun ideas and doesn’t waste the player’s time. The puzzles are simple, but charming and the scares don’t come at the obvious moments. It’s also cool that something created by students managed to grow into a game that was this successful. I got it in a humble bundle and I suggest giving it a shot if you find it in a similar sale.