02nd Aug2018

‘Sleep Tight’ Review (PC)

by Rupert Harvey

SleepTight_Tommy

The first game out of the gate for indie devs We Are Fuzzy, Sleep Tight is an inviting idea, one which is immediately engaging – although its unbridled childish joy, infectious as it is, comes with serious caveats.

As soon as you boot up the game, you know you’re in safe hands in terms of the presentation. Wonderfully twee music overlays a bright, fat-fonted menu, and within a few button presses you’re into the game. Simple controls make it feel just right in the hands: one stick to move, one to aim; fire with one trigger, switch weapons with the other. Boom, you’re rocking.

The setting is the (remarkably spacious) living room of a family home. You start off as a kid: brave guardian of the lounge rug. It’s your job to defend the space from a series of monster attacks. Cute and blue they may be, but these are not the misunderstood schmoes of Monsters Inc – they mean to take you down.

Each night represents a wave, lasting a minute. Every ten rounds or so is a “blood moon”, which is simply a longer night. Throughout the night, by killing the invaders, you earn stars. During daytime, you can use these stars to research upgrades, build defences, and buy weapons. But you are also limited by time – each action consumes a certain number of time tokens, called suns. Once your suns are used up, the next night begins. Rinse and repeat until the monsters overwhelm you, and then you’re given a grade and hopefully a high score.

The items available for purchase are quite varied. You might bolster defences using tougher “walls” (sofas); or you may choose automatic gun defences to help out. Alternatively, you can always go it alone and throw your funds into weapons and power-ups – shields, speed boosts, increased damage etc. The weapons are a Splatoon-like arsenal of Super Soakers and Nerf guns, with water balloons standing in for grenades.

Beating a certain number of waves will unlock new characters, and effectively new difficulty modes. Higher difficulties are obviously more of a challenge, but the trade-off is the swifter accumulation of stars, thus potentially speedier progress. And it’s not just beating waves that unlocks characters; there are also challenges (for example, survive a wave with all power-ups enabled), which bring an interesting twist to normal achievement dynamics.

There are no permanent upgrades here – once you’re wiped, you need to start a new run. It’s a model which can be wearying, although it’s consistent with the simple arcade approach that the game is aiming for. Beneath the Pixar-like graphics is a straightforward, fast-paced twin-stick shooter, and the basic mechanics are solid. However, hit notifiers are weak, so it’s not always clear when you are hitting something or being hit.

What begins as a walk in the park (or indeed the lounge) becomes exceedingly difficult very quickly. There are certain tactics which can be employed – the moonlight makes it possible to see the shadows of monsters approach from the right – but much of the tactical thinking is mitigated by the perspective, which is slightly too zoomed, making it impossible to see quicker enemies approaching before they’re gnashing your face off.

Sleep Tight is a fun game, and a good game, with some fundamental barriers to greatness. The need to constant replenish ammunition is bizarre. Between each night it’s necessary to use at least two or three suns just to make it through the next round. See, if you run out of ammo in the night you’re a sitting duck – there is no backup weapon with infinite ammo; not even melee. It’s a decision which almost entirely cripples any sense of construction creativity through boring necessity.

The game is predicated on the idea of building a fort – a completely charming concept, embellishing the childish imagination – yet the defensive approach is questionable at best. Generally it is more effective to focus on firepower and stars collection, which makes the already-shallow fort-building aspect feel like an afterthought.

Finally, we must talk about the loneliness of the poor child at the centre of this fantasy. Amazingly, Sleep Tight is entirely single-player. The craziness of this limitation cannot be overstated. If ever there were a game crying out for couch or online co-op, it’s surely this. But here we are, all on our lonesome.

Sleep Tight has bags of charm and a novel approach to the twin-stick genre. It would threaten brilliance if only it were better balanced in terms of its resource management aspects, and if it would give the poor kid a friend or sibling. As a foundation, there’s certainly plenty to build on, but as of right now it’s too flawed to offer an unqualified recommendation.

Sleep Tight is out now on Steam and Nintendo Switch.

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