Back to Bed has a development story behind it that you can't help but admire. Like Octodad: Dadliest Catch, it was conceived as a student project that went from garnering accolades from a university to winning indie game competitions and finding its home on the PlayStation Network for the world to judge today. This right here is what partially captures the spirit of the indie game scene, and while you have your winners and losers, you'll always see a plethora of creativity on display that simply either did or didn't pan out as planned. It's why we can confidently express our fascination with the imaginative ideas present in Back to Bed's gameplay and pleasing yet wacky visuals, but unfortunately, our hopes and dreams were dashed in the realisation that it merely scratches the surface of its true potential, leaving much to be desired.
Bob is your average Joe with a rather severe case of narcolepsy, which means that he could suddenly fall asleep at any time when he's in a relaxing state. In his subconscious, he appears to be sleepwalking as well while he's asleep – which is confusing in itself – and must be guided to his dream bed to continue sleeping in his real bed without interruptions. This is where you come in as Subob, a dog with Bob's face that guides the sleepwalking Bob to his comfy mattress across 30 levels that might just be imaginative representations of Bob sleepwalking in reality. We're not entirely sure, but it's an ancillary anecdote to the gameplay and graphics that are meant to take centre stage.
Among the 30 levels that you'll be traversing, the grid designed stages you walk upon as Subob have their fair share of dangers for Bob. In his slumbering state, he never stops moving forward, backward, left, or right, and can only turn clockwise when he encounters an obstacle in his path. Only you can get him where he needs to go, but this means that you must use the layout and objects in the environment to slowly put him on track. There are a bunch of weird, surrealist objects that you can use to your advantage in these dreamlike levels, such as giant apples that can be placed nearly anywhere Bob can walk. Other strange things like big, blowing lips propel Bob across gaps while not disturbing his original trajectory; flat fish-shaped boards can be picked up and placed across ravines, and so on.
Enemies and environmental hazards attempt to thwart your attempts to save Bob, such as man-eating manholes, whale road tracks that he cannot cross, and clocks that must be misdirected off the stage for Bob to go past them. There's also some verticality at play sometimes with levels that complicate the paths that must be taken to guide him, and quick thinking is required on a few occasions that encourages you to plan out where to place which objects and how fast to do it. Most of the challenge is simply found in finding clever ways to redirect Bob with the placement of the giant apples, which made us smile at times at how clever and fast you have to be to figure it out.
The strange thing, though, is that every hazard is more of a nuisance than a thought-provoking obstacle. They can usually be ignored or misdirected off the stage very easily, and since there are no penalties for Bob falling off the level, the only fail states that you encounter are when you're attacked by enemies, which are few and far between. This points to the larger problem of the majority of puzzles being a breeze to complete.
Even the mind-bending presentation of the environments inspired by M.C. Escher's famous art like 'Waterfall' and 'Relativity' are only there for show, rather than playing a meaningful part in complicating players' perceptions of the environments, which Fez accomplished with ingenuity in its own unique way. While these designs do lend to some cool sections that require you to walk up walls and use the altered gravity to reach certain locations, there's not much else done with this cool concept.
Speaking of the scenery, if you're looking for a trippy trip down surrealist, modern art lane, you've arrived at your destination. As we've alluded to already, weird stuff like an eyeball sun that follows Bob's movement, flying chess pieces, giant hands, and more are on display. If you find yourself thinking about Salvador Dali and René Magritte's unusual, iconic pieces, that wouldn't be misplaced since the clean, minimal style is directly inspired by these individuals. It really helps make the game stand out visually, and the mix of creepy yet relaxing ambient music. We wouldn't call it memorable, but it complements the atmosphere of the game nicely.
Combined with the speed that you can get through the puzzles, the most discouraging aspect about Back to Bed is that it'll take you about two hours to finish the first time through. When the asking price for this type of game is $19.99/£14.99, it simply isn't worth recommending. A few bucks is one thing, but inflating this to such a high price is off-putting.
Granted, there is a Nightmare Mode that you can unlock that makes levels more challenging by placing keys in the same stages that force you to manoeuvre Bob to get them in slightly more crazy, clever ways than before. It's definitely a solid way to prolong the game's length, but even this will only add a mere hour or two of gameplay since you'll already be familiar with the layouts.
Back to Bed is something that we'd love to see again in the future. A sequel could build upon and flesh out its genius puzzle solving foundation, but as it stands, the game feels more like a well-developed prototype than a fully-fledged title. The cartoony, minimalist graphics and eye-catching presentation will hold your attention, but like a fanciful daydream, the breezy experience will abruptly end, leaving you sighing in disappointment as you snap back to reality and stow away its pleasant aspects at the back of your mind for a good, long while.