Everyone has had at one point in time horrible neighbors. Maybe they were loud and obnoxious, or they never waved back when you waved at them. Or maybe, just maybe they kidnapped and/or locked someone in a basement while you were walking by. Okay, hopefully not the last scenario, but that is the basis of the Dynamic Pixels developed Hello Neighbor that was released on Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, iOS, and Android last week. The feeling of skepticism towards the events that kicks off the game and the frustration it brings is very prevalent throughout the game and in how the player is playing the game.
To be completely candid, the neighbor should have locked this game in the basement and kept the game there until it was fully fleshed out and streamlined. Beyond that it should have been released to all platforms at once, as it really feels like the developer wanted the community to figure out the convoluted puzzles together and enjoy the game as a sense of community accomplishment. This is not possible as they had released the game as an unfinished Early Access game, and even then, only released it on Xbox One and Microsoft Windows initially late last year.
It is easy to see how a sense of frustration can manifest and grow- an annoyance that starts with the controls. While being in a first-person point of view, the character can only run, walk, grab/hold something, and throw any of the four items they can hold in the inventory. For the Nintendo Switch, this is all revolved around the bumpers, analog sticks, and d-pad. None of the buttons are utilized, and to further the frustration of non-remappable and poorly-mapped controls is the fact that the game does not tell the player they have to hold the pickup button to pick something up or hold the throw button to throw it further and harder.
This lack of tutorials means the player has to feel out the game to learn them and figure out exactly what is going on with the core game mechanics before they can even figure out what may need to be done to solve the puzzle in the first act of three The leads to the frustration of the player has already died several times before they even get to puzzle solving and the Neighbor is now on higher alert and already using the game’s advanced AI to place traps near the areas the player tends to go to. This is a poor design choice and the increased frustration is just never rewarded properly to make it worth it.
This is because the puzzles, as mentioned above, are unnecessarily convoluted and all over the map, figuratively and literally. For instance, the player must find a high-power super magnet, but instead of it bringing the much-needed wrench, it instead brings a lockpick. This in turn forces the player to go back around and into the house of the, by this point very highly alerted, neighbor to pick the locked door to then just simply grab the wrench. If the magnet was as powerful as presented, why could it not just pull the wrench to the player? It is poor and inconsistent game and puzzle design that would have been hashed out if the game had properly been worked on out of the public eye.
Then there is the frustration of the game being called a ‘survival horror game’ without much actual horror until the third act. In fact, the game is mostly painted in bright colors with a retro 50s aesthetic during the first two acts. The times the game gets darker during these acts are when the player is caught by the neighbor and then randomly thrown into a random nightmare that opens up the neighbor’s darkly tragic backstory. Do not get me wrong, I love the art style and aesthetic, it just does not gel with the game’s stated genre. Add in the fact that nothing is really scary (more like creepy, really) and the game just falls frustratingly flat again.
Hello Neighbor is a game buoyed by an intriguing selling point, a great art style and aesthetic, and the innovative AI. Unfortunately, none of this is enough to really make a dent when everything else in the game is frustratingly bad and tests the player’s patience in the worst ways possible. Either the player needs the best patience in the world for all the inane trial-and-error this game calls for, or to read walkthroughs. Then the question becomes, if a walkthrough is a must, why not just watch someone else play the game and save $40? Ultimately, we recommend saving that hard-earned cash as this is an unfinished game with half-baked ideas. (Ryan Williford; Gaming Editor)
Review copy provided by tinyBuild; Reviewed on the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode.