NightmareScape Review – Puzzle Horror with Satisfying Spooks but Subpar Gameplay
NightmareScape put care into intricate storytelling, nostalgic visuals, and interesting level design, but the puzzle horror game’s monster encounters can be quite frustrating due to flawed controls.
Operating System: PS5, PS4, Switch, and PC
Application Category: Game
Recently make its way to Nintendo Switch, NightmareScape or you may know as In Nightmare for Playstation and PC, brings scary puzzle horror elements reminiscent of the Silent Hill gameplay. Playing as the young protagonist Bill, who has been thrust into terrible and abstract worlds drawn from his psyche, you must navigate nightmarish levels and puzzles to uncover a traumatic family history. Stylish retro graphics, dark lighting with creative camera angles, and perfectly creepy visuals and level designs grant this game a spooky atmosphere for uncovering an interesting but simple story.
Yet rough controls and unfair enemy encounters often spoil the fun; the real horror of NightmareScape is not any grotesque monster, but having to frequently redo an unfair monster chase that kills you before you can find the correct path. Rough and confusing gameplay elements within NightmareScape detract but are still made up for by interesting and diverse level environments that tie into a fascinating, relatable story.
▍Interesting Gameplay Mechanics Fall Flat
Unique gameplay mechanics within NightmareScape promise a potential that is rarely achieved. The player explores nightmare worlds with a slant camera angle, which prevents rooms from being fully visible. This unique camera perspective, giving the game a fresh look, works with one of its main mechanics. The dream spirit, Bikti, is able to fly past your character to explore levels, detect hidden items, and scan for unseen enemies. While Bill has the ability to control Bikti, run until out of stamina, and jump, you are tasked with escaping from monsters and unearthing secrets related to your past, while completing puzzles.
A fun feature in theory, Bikti rarely proves useful due to clunky controls that require you to hold multiple buttons and sticks down to control both the spirit and your character. The light that the spirit provides rarely brightens the darkened corridors enough, and scouting enemies rarely helps, given foes’ uncanny ability to hear you walking from very far away.
▍Enemy Encounters are More Frustrating than Fun
Enemy encounters are the main issue with the gameplay in NightmareScape. There are fun gameplay ideas, like Bikti’s assistance, but monster chases, feel a bit too clunky and difficult to be entertaining. Pursuing creatures can easily catch you, and narrow corridors give the player no room to try out interesting mechanics; after dying repeatedly, the correct strategy is simply to memorize the escape path and abuse items that stun enemies. Holding crouch down at all times slows down and simplifies the gameplay, yet I frequently felt like this was my only other option for dealing with enemies, given how easily they hear your footsteps.
The puzzles in NightmareScape are incredibly varied. Bikti can reveal hidden paths and objects, while gameplay obstacles can range from navigating an endless series of rooms to dodging axes within a labyrinth circus tent. The puzzles are creative but remind the player of the game’s major weakness—trial and error works better than intelligent planning. The game never holds your hand, and I had a blast when I was able to solve an interesting puzzle or find a smart way of sneaking around a monster. But by and large, frustrating, repeating deaths from ramming your head at a puzzle or enemy encounter detract from the gameplay of NightmareScape.
▍Vibrant Levels Flesh Out Interesting Environments
The colorful, varied-level designs in NightmareScape are filled with eye-catching environments that make up for the lackluster controls and mechanics. Creepy paintings, towering statues, and broken childhood playthings make each level feel unique and fun to explore.
The art style gets a lot right. The graphics and models are creepy, even while feeling retro and simple. Each level sticks to a few key locations which are central to the story, and yet the developers have done a fantastic job of adding twists and turns to simple sites like a childhood home or school. Though the camera will often give the player awkward and confusing angles, and the path forward may be poorly lit or unclear, the game combines peaceful and gruesome scenes at each level to capture Bill’s fraught emotions.
A strong link between each level’s visuals and the game’s overarching story allows you to learn about Bill’s traumatic past. Like with many other horror titles, the story is gradually revealed over time and left intentionally vague, often told through hidden documents you can discover while exploring. The focused-level environments in NightmareScape work wonderfully with this type of storytelling. Mysteries of the main character’s school experiences can be dispelled by hidden documents, but also by interpreting the monsters and terrifying visuals used within the level.
▍NightmareScape Tells its Story Well Despite Gameplay Woes
The story of NightmareScape is simple and focused, which might turn some players off—cliches related to familial abuse, divorce, and school bullying give the game familiar and pessimistic plot points. But this simplicity works very well in a game with abstract visuals and concealed plot threads. I had a great time interpreting the game’s horror elements and puzzling out how they fit in with the mysteries of Bill’s psyche. Ultimately, the simplicity gives you plenty of room to speculate, and the game’s cutscenes manage plenty of emotion and intensity without the use of dialogue.
Ultimately, it is difficult to reconcile the highs of NightmareScape with its lows. The game’s puzzles and monster encounters can be quite frustrating and are not helped out by flawed controls and mechanics. The map can be dark and unclear, and figuring out how to navigate a maze involves more friction than fun.
At the same time, the wonderful visual design matches each level perfectly with the story, and the strange camera angle makes for spectacular, if wonky, monster chase scenes. A healthy amount of levels and massive amounts of replayability, increased by collectibles, upgrades, and multiple story endings, make NightmareScape a decent Switch purchase for horror fans able to overlook some rough gameplay edges.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch code provided by the publisher. NightmareScape is now available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.