If games like Firewatch and Gone Home typify what has come to be known as the 'walking simulator,' then Among the Sleep is more of a 'tottering simulator'. You could take that as a reference to its implausibly youthful protagonist, but it just as easily applies to the game's uneven tone and shaky gameplay. You could probably describe Among the Sleep as a first-person horror game, but that wouldn't be particularly helpful. That might conjure images of Outlast or Resident Evil 7, and Krillbite Studio's effort is nowhere near as scary or as absorbing as those two modern gems.
Still, the game brings with it a very unique perspective. You play the part of a burbling toddler on the day of their second birthday. Your banal existence is soon upended as seemingly supernatural events begin to unfold, with a ghostly menace pulling you and your talking teddy companion into a warped nightmare world.
It's an evocative setting alright, as ostensibly benign toys and items of furniture become darkly suggestive props – both through their sheer scale and through some clever tricks of light and perspective. All the while there's the nagging question of whether you truly are being stalked through this shadowy netherworld, or if it's all a product of your youthful imagination. Sadly, the freshness of Among the Sleep's setting is just about where the good news ends. The trouble is that the game doesn't really amount to much of anything; it isn't scary, it isn't especially fun to play, and it doesn't offer up much of a challenge.
You essentially stumble around its simple environments, collecting bric-a-brac and solving achingly simple physics puzzles. It feels like so much busywork to be getting on with while the developer tells its story. At various points the tone will shift to something altogether more malevolent, but it doesn't result in much other than a darker palette and moodier music. Unfortunately, too, the more 'out there' and supernatural the tone gets, the less distinctive and interesting it feels.
The controls for your toddler are very convincing – which is to say they're clumsy, slow, and rather trying of your patience. It's a believable touch that our young hero moves faster when crawling than when standing, but it's no more satisfying a mechanic for that fact; not when you have to stand in order to interact with items and give your teddy a hug (which acts as a not-particularly-bright lamp).
Technically, Among the Sleep is adequate at best. It runs reasonably well, and everything's fairly clear and solid. But there's something about its simple, chunky art style added to the inevitable Switch visual downgrade (this is been out for several years on PC and console) that robs the game of some of its atmosphere. And without said atmosphere, Among the Sleep really isn't left with much to go on. It's a walking simulator in which it's not particularly fun to walk, and a horror game that isn't especially horrific.
The developer deserves a fair amount of praise for attempting something new with the identity of its protagonist, but Among the Sleep feels like it has a lot of growing to do before it becomes a worthwhile purchase on Switch.
Among the Sleep benefits from a fresh setting and the odd spooky set-piece, but it's let down by disappointingly generic puzzles and stilted gameplay. It takes a number of baby steps in the direction of Firewatch and Gone Home, but it's got a lot of growing up to do before it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.