It's often entirely possible for games designed to be played in virtual reality to be played outside of the VR headset. Trover Saves the Universe, for example, is quite plainly designed for VR, but is both playable and enjoyable without it – likewise The Persistence. But having said that, it is usually a matter of compromise. There's a reason that you usually see non-VR games with optional VR modes or editions (think Skyrim VR) rather than, well, the opposite. Five Nights at Freddy's: Help Wanted is clearly designed around VR, and in our view must be an extremely enjoyable, frightening game when you're in that world. Unfortunately, on Switch, you're not – and it doesn't work.
The most major question that kept popping into our heads during our time with Five Nights at Freddy's: Help Wanted was, quite simply, "Why?" The extant Five Nights at Freddy's games (well, the first four) are already on the Switch, with fairly decent ports. The majority of the content in this non-VR take on the VR game is drawn from those games. The visuals are slightly nicer, but everything else is inferior. Was there any compelling reason to release this in a non-VR format, beyond the obvious answer, which is to make some money?
The premise here is mildly clever; you're thrust into in-universe corporation Fazbear Entertainment's "Freddy Fazbear Virtual Experience", intended to fictionalise the events of the series so far in video game form to rehabilitate the Fazbear brand. Naturally, things almost instantly go awry, with a heavy dose of hidden lore to discover for long-time fans. It's not a bad idea, but of course it loses something when you get rid of the virtual reality element (you may begin to notice a pattern of criticism here).
Essentially, Five Nights at Freddy's: Help Wanted is a mini-game collection featuring content from the beloved mainline Five Nights at Freddy's series – from the 2014 original through to one of its more recent instalments, the as-yet-unported Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location. Much of the package comprises recreations of the first four games, with their familiar doors-closed, lights-on gameplay. Learn the rather esoteric rules, evade the homicidal mascots. You know, the same that's already available on the Switch for £6.29 a pop.
Is that too cynical? You'll have to forgive us, because it all just seems so pointless. The Five Nights at Freddy's games are quite strategic, yes, but they're also very accessible and with very few commands – that's one of the main reasons they became so popular. Non-VR VR reduxes of the same games don't add anything to the mix and actually critically, fundamentally weaken the experience by introducing a general sluggish unwieldiness to titles that used to be simple and snappy (no pun intended).
That'd be the compromise we mentioned; introduced by tying your VR head movements to the left stick. What must have been intuitive and immersive in virtual reality is now clumsy and awkward. There are items lying around that you can pick up and throw, as per most VR games – doing so in their intended format would be a simple matter of extending your in-game "arm" and grabbing them. Now, you have to fight the imprecision of the sticks and tap B at just the right time. It's not just a matter of moving the cursor over the object; your virtual "head" is your only guide, and it's very twitchy indeed.
The original games had a preset range of motion that made your limited interactions a breeze to perform. Five Nights at Freddy's: Help Wanted doesn't. It just isn't as good. Does it work? Sure, it works. You look left and hit the indicated button to close the door or switch the lights on or whichever command goes with whichever Five Nights at Freddy's minigame you're playing. Yes, it functions. But it's utterly compromised, and that feeling never goes away.
There is more to the game than these inferior recreations of the mainline series, but it's not a lot to write home about. There's a version of the "Fun with Plushtrap" minigame that's almost identical to the original from Five Nights at Freddy's 4, and that wasn't much more than a brief bonus stage in the first place. There's also a completely new minigame titled "Vent Repair" that plays out like a rudimentary escape room in which the player must hit a series of switches while warding off vicious animatronics. Another new minigame is Parts and Service, in which you perform various maintenance tasks on the likes of Bonnie, Chica and Freddy himself. It, again, amounts to a very basic series of minigames. Fine in VR. Not so much here.
To cap it all off, the performance of the game is depressingly poor in both handheld and docked modes, which only adds to the overall feeling of sloppiness. We're not dealing with particularly demanding visuals here, yet the game is awkward and sluggish, hinting that corners were cut in the effort to bring it to Switch.
If we sound like a broken record criticising this VR conversion, that's because its central problem is so all-encompassing that it destroys the product. Sure, you could have fun with this if you're a committed fan of Five Nights at Freddy's and its lore, but we'd advise against it otherwise. As with many VR games, the immersion and novelty factor papers over the cracks of the limited gameplay. When that escapism is taken away, all that's left is a sub-par minigame collection that isn't even as good as the individual games it cribs from – and it's a lot more expensive, too. We get the impression that the sole reason this game exists is to capitalise on the fact that the Switch has such a large market share.