Using his real life struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression as an inspiration for Neverending Nightmares, lead designer Matt Gilgenbach wanted to create something that reflected the same bleakness and hopelessness that he himself experienced. The horror game also draws even more inspiration from the art style of Edward Gorey, an artist who dealt with his own personal struggles of reclusiveness and sexuality.
With its brooding soundtrack, an alluring art style, and a lot of inspiration going in to its development, Neverending Nightmares was a game that I was thoroughly looking forward to and one we jumped at the opportunity to review when it released for the OUYA and PC on 9/26. However, no matter how fantastic the game looked, or how spooky it sounded, after spending a fair amount of time leading an emotionless man in pajamas down countless hallways, it never truly lived up to its expectations.
The story of Neverending Nightmares revolves around a man named Thomas who wakes up from one nightmare, only to find himself inside of another. Each time he wakes up, his surroundings become darker as he navigates the many different rooms and hallways inside of his own home, and within an insane asylum. Portraits of his family become more sinister, becoming images of skulls or vultures, while hallways accumulate cobwebs and wallpaper begins to peel away.
The game has excellent black and white imagery, only using color for objects that Thomas can interact with, or for blood effects in many of the game’s gruesome scenes. Neverending Nightmares never shied away from the gore either, as I came across piles of bodies, severed limbs, and had my intestine ripped out of my stomach by walking dolls. The entire game also runs without a drop in frame rate, which is definitely a win on the OUYA. All of this sounds amazing on paper, but the problem with the game is just the game itself.
Playing through Neverending Nightmares, I anticipated it being terrifying right from the start. The game starts off with a bang, navigating some nicely drawn backdrops and being chased down by a ghostly apparition. I was also treated to a few delightfully gory scenes of Thomas ripping his veins out of his own arm, and burying a kitchen knife in to his sister, but as I made my way through his home, every hallway and every room seemed to look the same, and it eventually began to feel like one gigantic walking simulator with very little going on in the background.
It seemed as if a lot of work went in to the game’s opening act, but after delving deeper and deeper in to his nightmares, the game became repetitive rather fast–and that’s saying a lot for something that I completed in around 80 minutes. The early moments of the game are also the only times that Thomas interacts with and uses objects found in the environment, like an ax to break down a barrier, or a candle to illuminate a dark basement. Had the rest of the game actually given me something to do while I wandered around aimlessly, I know I would have enjoyed it a lot more, but once you get out of the early going, it’s essentially just you guiding him down hallway after hallway until something happens and he wakes up. Then you do it again. And then again.
There’s very little dialogue in Neverending Nightmares, but what exists is decent in quality. All of it is voiced over, which was a nice touch, but I never really felt for Thomas, even after viewing all three of the game’s possible endings. He doesn’t even react to anything in the environment, even while being pursued by one of the game’s three enemy types, or witnessing one of the few jump scares. You can sprint using the OUYA‘s shoulder buttons, and doing so for a prolonged period of time causes Thomas to wheeze, but that’s the only reaction you’ll get from him outside of scripted events.
Exploration in Neverending Nightmares is made slightly more difficult by monsters patrolling its many, many hallways. They range from a giant baby-like creature that will chase you down until you hide in a closet, to a tall, scrawny man in a straight jacket that will rip out your throat if you make any noise by way of running or stepping on glass. The only other creatures are tiny dolls, but all of them are easily avoidable as they all follow a set path and there are probably only 15 encounters in the entire game.
One thing that may also be an issue for some is the price tag. Neverending Nightmares was previously advertised at $19.99 for OUYA, and is currently $14.99 on Steam. Considering the game can be completed in around an hour, you may want to evaluate your own personal price-to-gameplay ratio and decide if that’s something you’re okay with. It does offer three different endings to experience, although none of them were worth writing home about. Still, that’s something to consider if you’re the type to replay games a few times and see everything it has to offer.
I know bleakness and hopelessness were the main themes in Neverending Nightmares, but with so little to do but walk, it lost my interest rather quickly. I wanted to like this game. Hell, I wanted to love this game, and had it kept up with the momentum built by its opening act, or at least offered an interesting story, I’m sure I would have. I love horror games because of their immersion and atmosphere, and both of those aspects were lost due to the game’s dull gameplay and its severe case of repetition. Unfortunately a haunting art style and great use of musical queues isn’t enough to carry a game that only had brilliant ideas on paper, and after 20 minutes Neverending Nightmares became Neverending Hallways. Its inconclusive and uninteresting trio of endings also did very little to sway my opinion. Sure it’s pretty, but it’s just not very fun.
Recommended for fans of: Horror games, hand-drawn art styles
*This review is based on the OUYA version of Neverending Nightmares. It is also available on PC, Mac, and Linux, but unless we find significant differences between each version, consider this our definitive review.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling reviews, public relations, and our social media communications. He’s an aspiring video game journalist, Baltimore native, and on again/off again WoW player that favors roguelikes, horror games, and point-and-click adventures. His favorite console is the Dreamcast, favorite game is the original Metroid, and he could watch The Goonies for the rest of his life. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow his insanity on Twitter.