An Interesting Take On Survival Horror
Usually, when it comes to indie-developed games, it's difficult to find information involving a title due to its nature. In Nightmare is one such title, as its development history is as mysterious as the game's premise itself. The developer, Magic Fish Studio, is an independent developer based in Beijing as far as I am aware. In Nightmare is believed to be their first title if this Gematsu entry is anything to go by. With this in mind, I'll try to go easy in my first impressions of this narrative-based "survival horror," because it isn't without its flaws.
Players take control of a kid who is seemingly trapped within his nightmares, accompanied by a pixie named Bikti. Bikti serves as the player's access to various useful tools. These include a light source in the darkness, revealing hidden objects, and a sonar to detect enemies. In Nightmare is one of those games where if the enemy catches you then it's "game over." In this case, the game sets you back to the last checkpoint, further hinting that this is all a dream...or a nightmare.
Use Your Wits To Survive In Nightmare
While coincidentally sharing a similar name with each other, In Nightmare has no relation to Little Nightmares. The concept of using your wits to solve puzzles over direct violence is similar in both titles. Bill, the protagonist, is defenseless. All he is able to do is run and hide when faced with adversity, whether it's a large witch or many shadow hands. Players will need to take advantage of Bikti's abilities to find hidden pathways that lead to important keys. As mentioned, the fairy can also be used as a sonar to detect where an enemy is located.
If Bill is spotted, he will have to run and break the chase usually by hiding or simply reaching a "safe zone." Most puzzles involve exploring the player's surroundings, moving objects to climb, and finding keys. In Nightmare is not a scary game at all, it's more atmospheric than "horror." It's similar to a child-like horror of experiencing night terrors as everything is more exaggerated than normal. Still, there's nothing in the game that provides a "Jump Scare" feeling. Even getting captured felt more like a way to try again rather than getting spooked.
"In Nightmare" Is More Puzzle-Platformer Than Horror
In Nightmare is a confusing game to discuss because it all falls back to the game not being "horrific." The game certainly has "horror" elements and are make to feel the player uncomfortable. There's always something holding the game back from going deeper into the uncanny valley. Maybe this is because of Bikti and the fact that the player always has a form of support. The narratives featured In Nightmare tell most of the story to the player.
Bill is a child raised in a troubled household. According to various fragments of memory shown in-game, his parents are dysfunctional. They often get into arguments and leave him in predicaments that make him question his worth to his parents. These brief scenes are also preludes to clues needed to traverse through the nightmares. This is a neat concept, but it could have been improved upon with a bit more intensity.
Thankfully, Its Aesthetics Save The Day
While it's not a technical marvel, In Nightmare does have its moments of beauty. Traveling through the dream HUB world is pleasant as well as dark murky corridors are equally repulsive. Bright colors representing a playroom are immediately followed by dark grim hallways as shadows chase Bill. The music offers a nice touch to the atmosphere as well. It's meant to evoke a certain emotion and it does so at times. Unfortunately, I found most of the experience rather boring. Maybe this is because I felt the pacing become a tad bit slow, but I felt like I saw the gist of the game in 30 minutes.
Run here, unlock this switch, run away from this monster, and find this key. It was all repetitious and the only way I knew I was making progress was because of the internal cutscenes. There is lore hidden in items that Bill finds, but exposition hidden behind key items is done lazily here. Still, for $20 you could do far worse. Again, this is taken into consideration that In Nightmare is Magic Fish Studio's first work. It's not a bad first try, but here's hoping their next project has a bit more weight to it.
In Nightmare is available on the PS4 and PS5.