Being a child, especially a young child, is a constant shift of emotion devoid of analytical thought. Without the knowledge gained from years of life experience, many objects and situations lack the embedded associations and descriptions that come with being an adult. Something as simple as a dark kitchen, a playground, or a forest becomes a Lewis Carroll-esque twisted and deformed version of the original, however simple it might be. This concept applies not only to the physical world, but human interaction and nuanced social situations as well. Seen through the eyes of a toddler, what looks normal and explainable to an adult morphs into something far more terrifying.
Among the Sleep takes this interesting idea and runs with it, allowing you, a grown-up with a rational mind, to experience a common domestic issue in an equally common environment from the perspective of a young child with a wild and developing imagination.
You begin the game at the kitchen table, bathed in warm sunlight and bright, friendly colours, as your doting mother surprises you with a gift. After she takes you up to your room for a nap, the game begins a simple tutorial as you learn the mechanics…what little there are. Unlike other games in the puzzle/horror genres, your abilities in Among the Sleep are rather simple. You can crawl quickly, or stand up and walk slowly, and manipulate objects. That’s it. Obviously, as the protagonist is so young, there isn’t anything in the way of combat, crafting or dexterous platforming to master. In a longer game this would eventually become tedious, or even frustrating, but thanks to the short and sweet playtime (around three hours) these simple mechanics work just as they need to without becoming annoying.
As you traverse these twisted doppelganger versions of everyday environments, there are some simple puzzles to solve that mostly involve moving objects around to make steps, empty boxes, and slide keys into slots to allow your physically inept character to progress through the levels. There are no Riven style puzzles that will leave you pulling your hair out and screaming in confusion, but what the game does challenge you with fits well thematically with the idea of being so young. Despite the nightmarish landscapes, there is a certain level of realism that goes along with keeping things simple enough that you can believe a toddler would be able to accomplish these feats.
The environments are gorgeous, and run from the initial cozy, softly lit bedroom where you immediately feel safe and ready for a nap, to a dark and foreboding house and bizarre and twisted imitations of a playground and forest. Thanks to the limited perspective of being only two-and-a-half feet tall, every piece of furniture or playground equipment becomes a towering and intimidating feature, often sparsely lit by eerie colours interspersed with wells of shadow. Among the Sleep doesn’t try for huge, sprawling environments crawling with creatures and crazy weather effects, but manages quite well to capture how strange and scary the world can be to a fresh and innocent mind.
Story wise, well, that’s for you to figure out. The game isn’t very long, and explaining any plot points in detail would kill the fun. The game lets the story expand at a decent pace that keeps things flowing well, with little reveals here and there that allow you to easily piece together just what the hell is going on. It’s important to remember that when you get to the end, and finally understand what the game has been going for, what is revealed isn’t some crazy supernatural mystery, but a situation that many families struggle with all over the world. It’s not a grand story, but it is told in a way that will make you think twice the next time you get into an argument with another adult in front a child.
Among the Sleep is a fun way to kill a couple of hours, and while it isn’t the deepest, most engaging puzzle game on the planet, playing from the perspective of a innocence-filled child is an innovative and interesting approach. Combine that with some gorgeous visuals and surprisingly tense moments and you’ve got a fairly solid little package. Definitely worth checking out if you like this kind of thing, but not for everyone.