When looking back at our childhoods we tend to focus on all of the pleasant memories, like days in the park during the summer, going on holiday with our family, and playing outside with our friends. What about the unpleasant memories though? How many times did we ask our parents to keep the light on or to check the cupboard one more time to make sure that nothing was lurking within?
Among the Sleep focuses on these more unpleasant and frightening aspects of childhood, delving into the mind of a two year old toddler, using his memories and dreams as the setting for the game.
At the opening of the game we find ourselves celebrating our second birthday, sat with our mother as she starts feeding us a slice of birthday cake. Interrupted by a knock at the door, and the raising of voices coming from the hallway, you strain to see what is going on, failing to free yourself from your high chair. After a few moments of silence your mother returns with a smile put on her face and a present between her hands.
Taken upstairs to our brightly lit and colourful room, we get to experiment with the controls and abilities of this toddler. As I crawled through tunnels, climbed over furniture, picked up blocks and even played with my very own train set, I realised the uniqueness of playing such a young character.
The feature of the main protagonist being a two year old child is perhaps the most thought out aspect of the whole game. Playing as a toddler your abilities are limited, as you’d expect for a person of that age. You can walk, although clumsily, and will fall down after long periods of walking around, and not even able to speak yet, you discover words on the covers of books look like gibberish because you’re too young to read. Through playing the role of a toddler, seeing the world through his eyes, you as the player seem to revert back to this state of mind. In doing this Krillbite just has to set the mood, to introduce some atmospheric sounds, immerse the player and let their imagination, similar to a child’s, invent the danger, and see things that aren’t really there. In most other games a coat with some boots underneath is nothing to be scared of, however with the lights in the house all turned off, random noises being heard in the next room, and you focused on the act of pushing open a large door, this simple placement of props causes shivers to run down your spine as you peek around the door.
During its stages as a Kickstarter campaign it was the feature of a two-year-old protagonist that drew people to the game, and Krillbite have successfully delivered on this point. Although after half an hour the initial excitement of playing as a toddler begins to fade, you are constantly reminded of how vulnerable you are, and of the restrictions placed upon you by the world.
Moving throughout each of the various settings, it’s not the visuals that ultimately sell the game or thoroughly immerse the player into this creepy dream world, but instead are the sounds; the gentle breeze whispering through the forest, the creaking of the swing set, the child’s breathing slowing down as you hide quietly in the wardrobe. Sound is especially important, and is what reinforces Among the Sleep’s sense of fear and horror. This should not however take away from the stunning visuals and smart level designs found within the game. Particularly within the setting of the toddler’s home, which is transformed into an entirely new house just through the move from day to night.
As you progress into the fantasy realms conjured within the toddlers dreams, the game begins to lose focus, fixating more on puzzles that the player has to overcome, just to unlock doors or to progress a little further, without much explanation as to why. After the intense exploration of the toddler’s home searching for his mother early on in the game, these levels seem to fall short. With less direction and more conscious thought needed in these levels you find yourself becoming less immersed, wanting to return back to the terrifying settings of realism over these twisted Alice in Wonderland-esque lands.
Among the Sleep is ultimately void of much text or speech other than a few short sentences from your teddy bear companion; however it still manages to portray the fears and concerns experienced by young children that seem to disappear as you grow older. More importantly however, Krillbite has managed to convey the traumatizing effects of a broken home on such a young toddler, stuck between two parents and their adult problems. Unfortunately, even though this plot is successfully conveyed, becoming fairly obvious towards the latter end of the game, it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Although I feel the final conclusion is worth the 2 to 3 hours it takes to complete the game, Krillbite builds up what little story there is and do little with it, other than display the harsh real-life truth the story is based on.
Amidst the short story, underwhelming conclusion and lack of explanation, Krillbite has demonstrated significant potential with Among the Sleep, especially when realised that it is the first game produced by Krillbite Studios. It’s unfortunate that the concept and story were not further realised and developed, however there is plenty still to experience. Among the Sleep offers an interesting and unique perspective surrounded in an array of beautifully creepy settings, all of which are worth exploring.