You click ‘New Game’ and find yourself staring at your feet. ‘Sweet dreams,’ you say to yourself, drifting off to sleep, only to wake up to a crumbling bridge in a post-apocalyptic world. Thunder crackles in the distance, a flickering sign reads ‘Welcome’, and in the distance, someone is watching you.
So begins the point and click horror game Bad Dream: Coma, recently released on Xbox consoles. While point and click games have long been a recognisable genre in the gaming sphere, current releases are perhaps popular for their retro, nostalgic feel.
One cannot underestimate, however, the popularity of point and click horror. Stripped of many luxuries modern games are equipped with to instil horror in the player, point and click games have to nail atmosphere, art style, and character.
You may think that these types of games are jump scare factories, building up the tension until the next flashing image, but here comes Bad Dream: Coma to prove you wrong.
You hear a baby crying. You cannot see a baby, nor can you continue your journey due to the traffic barrier in your path needing a wire. You go back the way you came and saw a pram in the middle of the bridge.
Upon looking in the pram, you see a distressed wind-up baby doll. Unfortunately, of the items in your inventory, only the crowbar can interact with the beauty. So you cave the baby’s head in, and you take a wire out.
The story of Bad Dream: Coma is primarily directed and altered by your actions. You wake up in a nightmare world where everyone recognises that they are asleep and that the monsters are not real, but their fear is. As soon as you awake in this dream world, you get to decide what sort of agent you will be in it.
The game doesn’t shy away from telling you how you are affecting the story, either. For example, boot up the game, punch a bird, and you’ll be told you have blood on your hands – and the Good ending will be scratched out. Punch a few more birds, and the game will inform you that birds now hate you – you’re now officially Bad.
While the story asks mysteries and takes place across eight chapters, a Good playthrough can feel entirely different to a Neutral or Bad playthrough. Yes, you’ll end up at the same hospital with the same demented characters, but the circumstances and relationships you have with them depend on who you are.
If you are anything like me on my lousy playthrough, you might see yourself become the horror villain, as you cause yourself and all those around you immeasurable pain. However, the narrative present in this game, though somewhat bare, leaves much open to interpretation.
It had me questioning who the dreamer was and whether the characters are seen were important in their life. I had an excellent time uncovering the mysteries of the nightmare. However, I’m not sure the narrative alone would be enough to entice me to a second playthrough.
If you’ve played a point and click game before, you’ll be right at home with Bad Dream: Coma. For me, the most recent comparison I could think of was Resident Evil. Going from room to room, searching for and finding objects, figuring how they interact with other things and solving puzzles.
This Xbox release of Bad Dream comes with intuitive two-button cycling of your inventory with the right and left bumper. For every other interaction, though, you’ll be needing the left thumbstick and the A button. In my opinion, this feels like a wasted opportunity to implement some of the other buttons in travelling from area to area.
The Graveyard is one of the chapters I was stuck on for a long time. Aimlessly wandering back and forth between areas I knew I could go, I completely missed a location indicated by the small arrow at the bottom of the screen.
Not only is this arrow much smaller and less noticeable than the ones at the left and right, but it would also be far more noticeable if the game indicated each one with an X, Y, and B button.
These may seem like minor problems, and they are. Still, when wandering for that object you can’t find or trying to solve a puzzle after half an hour’s frustration, these minor annoyances stack up until they seem to be insurmountable.
While we’re talking accessibility, I feel it’s also worth mentioning that the inventory items appear on the side of your screen as images without names. When solving puzzles, this becomes problematic, as you must understand what you need and what you have.
It’s unavoidable that a point and click game on Xbox has to use the left thumbstick to control the cursor. As such, dragging it across the screen at a much slower pace than a mouse can navigate.
However, the lack of support for the other buttons is, in one instance, a mind-numbing exercise in tedium. In the scene with a board game, you are forced to make it to the end of the game by relying on the role of a dice – complete chance.
While there are checkpoints, and you are given a pen as a lifesaver (which runs out too quickly if you use it on all the early obstacles), the dragging of the cursor between the mouse and the player’s game piece added a layer of frustration on something the player has no control over.
The Good, the Bad, and the Neutral
Hey, remember I talked you through caving that baby’s head in earlier? Yeah, well, that wasn’t the only way to get a wire. You see, often the most straightforward, most intuitive answer to the puzzles is to be Bad. This is how the game gets you to go down the straight playthrough first – you can punch a bird, so why wouldn’t you click to hit that bird?
You may be aware of the multitude of different ways you can solve puzzles in your first playthrough but, if you’re like me, you’ll go for the one that presents itself to you first because you’re frustrated and want to solve it, however you can.
Comprehending puzzles is a tried and tested formula, and Bad Dream does it healthy – exceedingly well in the later chapters, which get playful with the game’s mechanics and dream world.
The solutions to the puzzles may make you laugh, wince or cry. Sometimes you don’t want to do them, but the option is available to you, so you do it anyway.
You Have Options
With multiple paths open to the player, the game feels smartest when you know how to do it badly first. Playing the game a second time and doing mental gymnastics to try and figure out how to get the same results without hurting people is ridiculous, challenging, and fun.
While the puzzles on the first playthrough may have you running around in circles and wondering how you were ever supposed to know that you had to do that, I only had to look up a walkthrough once, and I felt pretty stupid when the answer was so obvious.
I have to give the developers credit: letting the player know when they have departed from their pursued ending and allowing them to restart the chapter they’re on is a saving grace that would otherwise make multiple playthroughs torturous, giving the game at least three playthroughs’ worth of replay value.
Bad Dream‘s art style is primarily composed of pencil-on-paper visuals, which allows the game to get away with gore and animations which feel brutal yet still in the vein of black comedy. As a result, I often didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when a character’s guts fell out or when I (accidentally) stabbed someone in the eye.
The pages change colour from chapter to chapter, and they’re always lit differently, with shadows lurking somewhere on the screen. There are some nice lighting effects as the game goes on.
Still, this simplistic art style eventually marries the gameplay perfectly in the concluding chapters, when the game acknowledges that the world you’re interacting with is entirely hand-drawn.
When it comes to the game’s presentation, it’s worth noting that English is not the developers’ first language. However, the spelling ‘Controlls’ on the pause menu feels particularly obvious.
Perhaps unique to the Xbox version is a visual bug where the A button appears in front of the text that characters speak, but there is often the odd word missing in the dialogue (see above image).
Thankfully, the only complaints about the presentation are minor and related to either the translation, the Xbox interface, or minor visual bugs such as objects appearing in front of moving characters or the file names of game assets appearing on the primary menu.
Music and Audio
From the simple glass tap when you click on a window to the gruesome crunch as your fingers are severed, the audio in Bad Dream: Coma is always satisfying. Things sound as they should in a comic, slapstick world of gore and eeriness.
It’s in the music of the game where the frustration creeps back in. At first, the soundtrack provides a creepy ambience that compliments the squeaking of doors as you navigate the dysfunctional hospital. Then, string instruments screech and build tension, sometimes shrieking randomly to cause anxiety.
The potency of the music falls on deaf ears, however, when you’ve been listening to the same track on the same level for far too long. If the music implementation intended to stress me out, it succeeded, with me clicking on everything I could see in frustration as the music got more and more erratic.
The overall sensation was nausea, and I hesitated when returning to the game because I had a headache thinking about being subjected to the same ambient tracks once again.
When Bad Dream‘s soundtrack works well, it provides the dark and unsettling atmosphere with the game needs, but hearing the same notes in the same order over and over again doesn’t do it justice. As with most videogame soundtracks, it’s most successful after a long period of silence.
Bad Dream: Coma is a challenging point and clicks puzzle game with an intriguing gothic world. For the price of £8.39 in the store, it’s hard to not praise it as a worthwhile experience for puzzle enthusiasts and fans of horror.
However, this particular game version on Xbox consoles should have included more controller support and accessibility. Unfortunately, when the frustrations come thick and fast, there is little relief from them.
At the start of this review, I said not to expect Bad Dream to be a jump scare factory. That’s because its scares are as subtle as a scarecrow who moves closer to you every time you pass him. As a result, it never genuinely frightens, but its dark world delights with its style of black comedy.
For this review, Bad Dream: Coma was played on Xbox Series X. The game is now available on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S. I took screenshots via Xbox capture.
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