Back to Bed is an indie game designed by Bedtime Digital Games. As the name indicates, the objective is to steer Bob, the wandering sleepwalker through each level and safely back to his bed. Designed with a surrealist style, the game is gorgeous if only a bit puzzling.
Combining the artistic styles of M.C. Escher, Salvador Dalí and René Magritte, indie game Back to Bed has an interesting and eerie visual presence. Anyone into surrealist imagery will probably get a kick out of Bedtime Digital Games’ creation. Using the dog that looks like a cartoon Wilfred, a personification of Bob’s subconscious, players must get Bob to walk back to his bed. If left to his own devices, Bob would only walk straight, endlessly wandering off of ledges and being awakened by vicious attacks from alarm clocks. The levels are multi-tiered checkerboard mazes through which the player must maneuver the sleepwalking Bob, either by placing an obstacle in his path, usually a large green apple, or by building a path for him with a long flat fish. When an obstacle is placed in his path Bob only turns to his right (clockwise), which is the core of the difficulty.
The environment is riddled with both literal and figurative pitfall: lips like exhaust vents may blow Bob over the edge, annoying clocks with bowler hats and aggressive attitudes may wake him, and gaping maws set in some floor tiles may gobble him down into a black pit. Simply falling off an edge won’t wake the sleeper, but walking into one of those black maws and becoming lunch for a pitfall or being assaulted by a clock will end the level and force the player to restart with all the movable pieces on the board reset.
The sound does a great job of enhancing the weird surrealism of the game. Game mechanics are introduced with a voice that sounds like the speaker is on Valium. Bob snores softly throughout while seagull chess pieces call from the ever moving ocean background. When Bob plummets over an edge his howl fades as he disappears.
The problem here is that greater advantage could have been taken of such fantastic art, especially with the freedoms of an indie game. It’s almost as though the puzzle mechanic was either designed before this graphical direction was established or as an afterthought, rather than inspired by an artistic style. It feels as though the mechanics are too limited in the face of all the style has to offer. Except for moments where you have to use the sketched stairs to access the walls a la Escher, there is little mind-bending interaction with the oddities that are particular to the theme. You don’t get to play with any drippy clocks or odd eyeballs, and while there are portals, the player doesn’t manipulate them. What’s more, the control for the one mechanic, which moves pieces of the environment to block or create paths, could have been tighter. I initially found myself struggling to place the apple in precisely the spot required.
There is plenty for puzzle game players to enjoy in this indie game. There were enough levels to offer a challenge, including a Nightmare mode. There aren’t quite enough levels to justify $4, but it seems silly to quibble over pennies when players are spared the annoyance of nagging ads or a freemium content structure in which they have to pay real money to unlock parts of the game.
In the end, the artistic bar of Back to Bed was above that of the puzzles themselves. Because it is so graphically excellent, there is plenty of room under this bar for quality gameplay, but it does not make for the innovative indie game that could be BtoB. Hopefully, any possible sequels will develop new ways of interacting with the environment. With a few more creative control aspects, Back to Bed would be a truly inspiring work of art.[video id = “0lz-QUPABqw” site = “youtube”][/video]
Escher, Dali and Magritte paint over standard puzzle mechanics.