When it first launched in 2014, Five Nights at Freddy’s seemed for all the world like just another basic low-effort horror game; the sort of thing that wouldn’t make much of a splash in the broader gaming world. However, thanks to the help of some popular YouTube creators and a rapid-fire succession of sequels, the franchise has now achieved the kind of widespread brand recognition that most games could only dream of.
It all started with the original Five Nights at Freddy’s, which puts you in the shoes of a new security guard working the night shift at Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza. The Chuck E. Cheese-esque restaurant is famous for its collection of animatronic animals that ‘entertain’ the children by day, but at night, a much more sinister side to them comes out. The animatronics walk freely through the pizzeria, and if they happen to find a human in their wanderings, that person will then be forcefully stuffed into an animatronic suit.
Each night lasts a total of six in-game hours (just shy of ten real minutes) and your security guard is all but defenceless against the robotic monsters roaming the halls. You can track their movements via the cameras placed throughout the building, and if one of them happens to get a little too close to one of the two entrances to the security booth, you can deploy a blast door that will shut them out. The problem is, use of your few defensive options is governed by a scarce and rapidly dwindling power supply. If, for example, your panic causes you to leave those doors closed for too long, you run the risk of spending that last hour plunged in complete darkness and utterly defenceless against the murder-bots coming for you.
The main strength of this premise also proves to be its greatest weakness. Part of the ‘charm’ of Five Nights at Freddy’s is how its simple yet effective gameplay turns out. Anybody can pick up the controls in a matter of seconds, and it’s immediately clear just how tense the experience can be. That quiet dread that sets in when you check a camera and realize that one of the bots is missing is universally effective, and that constant over-arching fear that stems from your relative powerlessness is riveting, to say the least.
When you inevitably slip up and one of the characters gets into the office, the resulting jump scare acts as the perfect, terrifying climax to all that tension. However, once you get over that initial fear of the jump scare, Five Nights at Freddy’s doesn’t have much else to offer. The simple gameplay and heavy reliance on the aforementioned jump scares means the premise only has so much longevity, and once you’ve become accustomed to both, it’s easy for interest to drop off fast.
From a presentation perspective, Five Nights at Freddy’s hits all the right notes with its ‘less is more’ approach. The lack of music leaves plenty of breathing room for the silence to seem very loud indeed, while the ambient noises, footsteps, and soft laughter are sure to set you on edge. Similarly, there’s not much going on visually, as you’re functionally spending the entire game flipping between a collection of still images, but the environmental design is on point in how it conveys a creepy and derelict place crawling with killer machines. This Switch port performs just as well as one could hope, although we found the experience to be hampered a bit by iffy controls – an issue that disappears in portable mode, where you can navigate by using the touchscreen.