It’s A Dismal Day in the Neighborhood: A review of Hello Neighbor

After my last review, I went prowling for sales, hoping to find a new game to play at an affordable price. Enter Hello Neighbor on the Nintendo Switch eStore! I had wanted to play this game since my first encounter with its promotional images a couple years ago. It presented a quaint, cartoony aesthetic but promised a potentially dark undertone I found intriguing. I really did want to like this game. I just… didn’t.

The game opens on a suburban street bathed in sunlight. There’s a rainbow colored ball lying in the street followed by a shot of a young boy running. He kicks the ball down the street, sending it bouncing along until it comes to a stop four—fairly large, mind you—properties down. The game then turns the controls over to you while you chase the ball down only to wrest them away again with another cut scene, which probably means the creators should have just started at the second cut scene. 

Anyway, the child leans down to pick up his ball when he hears glass shattering and a scream coming from the house on his left. As he creeps closer, we can see a man, the titular neighbor, struggling against an unseen person… or thing. (Ooo, spooky!) The boy sneaks closer, climbing up onto the porch, and peers into the front window in time to see the neighbor slam a door shut and lock it, all while his victim continues to struggle and scream on the other side. (It’s a little surprising this game got an E rating from the ESRB though there’s really nothing visually horrifying throughout its entirety.) The neighbor leans back against the door, looking both tired and emotionally devastated, only to look up and see you, the player/child, spying on him. The game thrusts the controls back into your hands only to have the neighbor jump through the window and catch you for the first of what will be many times, which seems like par for the course in hindsight.

Welcome to Hello Neighbor, a game that looks like the movie Disturbia written by Dr. Seuss, directed by Tim Burton, and rushed through production by a studio who couldn’t decide whether they wanted a stealth game with erratic AI disguised as difficulty, a platformer with shoddy physics, or a puzzle game with mind-numbingly frustrating solutions. While the basic premise is just a watered down version of the aforementioned film, there really was a lot of promise. Unfortunately, the level design coupled with the problems listed above left me nearly tearing my hair out. For instance, the house of Act 1 (the house gets bigger and more convoluted with each passing act) is so small that it’s counterintuitively difficult to avoid being caught. 

The solution to the first puzzle, though, was deceptively simple. The main problem was the shoddy physics and poor controls deceived me into thinking I couldn’t possibly be doing the right thing. Players are required to climb a ladder—remembering the Burton-and-Seuss-esque aesthetic—to get to the roof, only we need to place a box on the top rung to make the jump. This box is as likely to glitch or fall as it is to stay put, and the child jumps with the grace and elegance of a sloth tranqued out on benzos. Imagine my rage when I broke down and looked at an online game guide to find out that this abandoned method was, in fact, the right one. And this was a simple puzzle!

Another puzzle solution I read about online was one of the final nails in the coffin for me; I quit before reaching the finish line. Apparently in Act 3, players are supposed to find three bits of cake strewn throughout what appears to be the Weasley’s Burrow (if it had been built by a drunk hoarder) and four mannequins to place around the table with said cake. This triggers an oversized birthday present on the ceiling to open, giving the player a pellet rifle. When I read this, I felt the days, weeks, and months stretching out ahead of me, tedium becoming my every waking moment, my only companions being the four items in the criminally small inventory my character could carry. I put down my controller and shut down my Switch for the night.

That’s not to say I didn’t have a little bit of fun with this game. When I got sick of being stuck on a puzzle, I often turned to throwing stuff at the neighbor, making him fall over and grunt in frustration. There were other segments that felt satisfying, too, like the supermarket and pantry-for-giants nightmares. Sadly, the main thing those last two bits have in common is the absence of the neighbor. His constant gasping at seeing you accompanied by the foreboding bass line started to feel like a prison I could never escape, so these reprieves from the main antagonist were welcome ones. The puzzles presented felt straightforward and, most importantly, solvable while not being too easy. This leads me to one of my largest complaints about the game: When your game feels more playable without your main antagonist—whether he’s glitched himself into a corner and can’t move or you’re playing through a dreamscape—perhaps your antagonist is a little broken.

Actually, there are a lot of broken things to discuss about this game, but some of them were downright hilarious! At one point, the neighbor was about to catch me but glitched out of the room backwards along the train track he has somehow added to his house in Act 3 as if he were some trippy Thomas the Tank Engine. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to record that one. I was able to record some chairs that didn’t want to sit still or obey the laws of physics, and I have a couple clips of the neighbor stuck in various feedback loops.

But for every funny glitch, there are probably three—if not more—infuriating ones. At one point, I glitched out of the train mentioned above. I almost fell to my death but was able to switch over to the umbrella in my inventory fast enough to avoid restarting (more Seussical Burtonness in action). At another, an item in my inventory appeared invisible in my hand. I thought perhaps putting it down could spur the rendering process, but that particular crank wheel was lost to oblivion. The glitch that finally made me quit and start writing this review involved a skateboard that needed to be placed just so glitching either through the floor or completely out of existence.

Maybe these particular issues are unique to the port on the Switch. Having not played on Xbox, PlayStation, PC, Android (I do not understand how this game was this popular!), or iOS, I couldn’t tell you, but I would be wary if you’re looking at diving in on any platform. Even at the discounted price of $10, I don’t feel like this game has a lot going for it. Maybe if you could get a free download and want to see how much stuff you can stack in an oven before it all glitches in a glorious cacophony of crashing and gyrating pixels. Otherwise, it might be best to sit this one out.

And now, here are some of the glitches I was able to record! And if you like what I’m doing, don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list on the home page.

Published by writingrobb

I’m a video gaming cat dad who likes to write.

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