Developer: Dynamic Pixels
Price: £35.99 // $39.99
Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours.
You can choose where you live but you can’t choose who you live next to. There always seems to be at least one nosy neighbour on every street who can’t help but want to know everybody’s business. You try to avoid eye contact with them so you don’t get collared and forced into a conversation with them. You might live next to a student house where all nighter house parties are a regular occurrence. You might be lucky enough to have lovely friendly neighbours who cause no trouble at all. Then there’s the creepy neighbour who’s a bit weird and you know they’re up to something behind closed doors but you can’t work out what. Hello Neighbor falls into this category of neighbour.
The game starts with a very brief cutscene to set the scene. You’re playing outside with your football when you hear screams coming from your neighbour’s house. You peer through the window to investigate but he spots you, crashes through the wall of the house and chucks you out onto the street. What is in the basement that he is desperately trying to keep hidden? He locks the door and the cutscene shows him putting the key on a table in the attic. After the cutscene, you’re thrown into the game with no other explanation on what your objectives are.
Work it out for yourself
Logic suggests you have to find a way into the attic, find the key to unlock the basement and discover what horrors await. Whilst I’m all for exploration and figuring out things for myself, Hello Neighbor throws you into the world and expects you to fend for yourself without holding your hand in the slightest. One of the best things about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the assumption by the developers that players are not idiots and don’t need hand-holding through the game. It feels so satisfying to discover something on your own without being pointed in the right direction by an over patronising game. However, Hello Neighbor tries this approach to the extreme and unfortunately is one of the things that let the game down. There’s no tutorial of any kind and the level design doesn’t allow you to learn the basics of the game as you play like in some games. Even Zelda: Breath of the Wild has a very basic introductory level to teach the basics of gameplay.
Going into the pause menu allows you to lookup the button controls but even then it’s hit or miss that pressing them will do what you want them to. For example, you have to press R to pick up an object, but for ages I was going around trying to find any objects I could pick up. I was pressing R but nothing was happening when I attempted to pick things up. I assumed it was because I was trying to pick something up that couldn’t be picked up. I eventually worked out it was because I was only tapping R when in fact you’re supposed to press and hold R to pick up objects. It’s also confusing because the same button is used to carry out actions, e.g. open a drawer, and you only tap R to do this. If you hold R nothing happens. Nowhere is this clarified. It’s one thing to play a difficult game but another to make a game difficult to play. Strangely, it does clarify that there is a difference between holding and tapping ZR which alternates between throwing and placing an object down. Why they couldn’t make this same clarification for the R button I don’t know.
Illogical puzzles + no hint system = Not a lot of fun
The puzzles in Hello Neighbor are unbelievably difficult with no logic to them. I’m a stubborn gamer and will try to solve puzzles on my own without looking online for guides, even if this means spending hours going around in circles. Eventually, with patience and perseverance, my stubbornness normally pays off. My patience and perseverance were ultimately put to the test with Hello Neighbor and in the end, I had to admit defeat. I had explored the ground floor of the Neighbor’s house and could not find any stairs that could lead to an attic. I checked all the rooms for anything that could be hidden but with nothing to go on, I didn’t know if I was on the right track or not. There is no sort of feedback mechanism to let the player know they’re doing the right thing. A hint system of some kind would be a welcome addition to the game. When I watched a YouTube walkthrough to find out what I was supposed to do I felt relieved that it wasn’t me being thick because there was no way I would have solved it on my own.
Even with the knowledge of what to do next the bugs in the game prevented me from progressing further. I was required to smash a window to gain access to a room but when I threw an object at the glass (by holding ZR, not tapping it) the object miraculously went straight through without the window smashing. I tried to follow it’s lead and jump through but I couldn’t because the pane of glass is a solid object. OK, maybe it’s just a little bug. I tried throwing another object at the window, hoping that it was just a one-off, but yet again it teleported through the window and stared at me from the other side. Eventually, I ran out of things to throw and decided to reload my game to a previous point so I could try again. I reloaded and to my dismay, nothing had reset. All the items I had thrown were still in that damn room and I had run out of other things to throw. At this point, I felt like the game was against me and didn’t want me to play it at all.
On a positive note, the music in Hello Neighbor is effective at creating a tense atmosphere. The element of surprise is reinforced with the music when you’re spotted and chased like a shark making a beeline for its prey. I jump easily and I jumped a few times while playing. I also think the cartoon aesthetics work well in the game but it’s a pity the Nintendo Switch version of the game is inferior graphically to the versions on PC, PS4 and Xbox. Everything has jagged edges and everything in the distance is horribly pixelated and a blocky mess. There is no excuse for such discrepancy in quality when the Switch versions of Doom and Wolfenstein II have proven that this doesn’t have to be the case.
When I first heard about Hello Neighbor I thought it sounded like a great premise. It sounded like a game I would enjoy and I had wanted to give it a try for a long time. The reality is although the concept sounds promising, it’s execution is poor and could have been improved. I was left extremely disappointed. I would be more forgiving of its shortcomings if it wasn’t for the retail price that it sells for. You can buy the physical version for £39.99 or £35.99 on the eShop. For that price, I expect a fantastic game that is fun to play and is finely polished. If it retailed between £10 to £15 I wouldn’t have had such high expectations. I would not be happy if I paid full price. For an additional £5 you can purchase the highly acclaimed Assassin’s Creed Odyssey or any other of the AAA major releases in the run-up to Christmas. I know what I would rather purchase.
This game was provided by tinyBuild for the purpose of this review.