In Nightmare, from developer Magic Fish Studio and publisher Maximum Games, puts a horror spin on the narrative-driven puzzle adventure genre. It’s exclusive to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 right now – we checked out the PS5 version.
Story-wise, In Nightmare focuses on the childhood memories of Bill, seen through a series of scenarios that reflect his real-life memories while Bill himself is actually in a coma. And while that’s not exactly a cheerful setup, the events of his childhood aren’t the most joyous either, growing up in a family that breaks apart and with a stepmother who’s not too keen on him either.
For a narrative-driven game, however, the presentation of the story in the game’s cutscenes and gameplay is a little lacking – you’ll need to look for and read notes that explain more about what’s going on in a scene to make more sense of it. It reminded us a bit of Little Nightmares, where you kind of get the general theme and setting but have to fill in a lot of the blanks yourself. We get that Bill’s parents were often angry, that his school life was rough and that he even needed therapy, but having to read on-screen notes surely isn’t the most engaging way to tell a story these days.
But where Little Nightmares managed to add variety to each scenario by way of different gameplay mechanics and some clever puzzles, In Nightmare too often relies on the same gameplay beats – in this case, running away from a monster and trying to get to safety, often through trial and error as you figure out which direction to run towards and which switches and objects to hit in order to slow the enemy down. It can be thrilling when it works and you make a narrow escape, but too often you just run out of time when you get to a door switch, and having to repeat the same sequence over and over again gets a little tiring.
In addition to these more action-packed sequences, there are also scenes that are more stealth-oriented, where you stay out of sight as you figure out how to escape the current environment. These are more puzzle-heavy elements in the game, but the best puzzles are the ones that don’t actually involve enemies lurking around – much like how they’re the best parts of Little Nightmares as well. Here, however, there don’t seem to be enough of them to really scratch that puzzle itch for genre fans.
Visually, In Nightmare’s environments and level designs do a nice job of walking that thin line between memory and nightmare, with a foreboding look and feel to everything. This is where your buddy Bikti comes in – a golden butterfly who can illuminate areas and alert you to the presence of enemies. This allows you to stay safe during stealth areas, and you can even upgrade Bikti’s abilities to make you more effective at this.
In Nightmare isn’t necessarily a bad game, but it fails to excel in the areas it wants to excel in. Tandem: A Tale of Shadows had better puzzle mechanics, for example, and Little Nightmares II feels like a more streamlined experience even though that game also has its narrative shortcomings. There’s a nice audiovisual design to In Nightmare and there are a few excellent puzzles, but there are better games out there, even within this very niche genre.