Have you ever played one of those games that was haunting, but not in overtly scary way? Something that just makes you feel uneasy, without the jump scares? Bad Dream: Fever by developer Desert Fox is that. A sequel to Bad Dream: Coma, it invokes a feeling that is very much like its title: a sort of strange fever dream of an experience that is simultaneously clever and old hat, and is playable even without any experience with the prior game.
Bad Dream: Fever is a mix between an escape the room, hidden object, and adventure game with an emphasis on story over gameplay. You play as an unnamed protagonist who finds themselves in a strange world; one that is in the grip of a terrible plague which has killed off most of the population. The plague manifests in the form of dark ink, which is fatal to touch. You ultimate goal is to find a way of curing or stopping, the ink. Not quite just a deadly toxin, the ink seems to be altering the world itself.
I don’t want to spoil any plot points, but not everything is quite what it seems. You are guided through the strange world by a girl wearing a plague doctor’s mask—who is the only inhabitant of the world not affected by the encroaching ink. Despite her helpful nature, she has a snarkyness to her that can be simultaneously annoying and endearing.
The emphasis on story doesn’t mean the actual gameplay is non-existent. Though it is sparse and can be clever, it’s just as often tedious. I don’t want to give any of them away, but as far as adventure games go, Bad Dream: Fever has some strokes of genius. It’s not just its finale, either (which itself is notable) but a lot of small clever touches included that make it feel special. But then there are the moments where puzzle solutions are rehashed, or worse: you’re stuck not quite sure what to do next. For a point and click adventure game that’s expected, but Bad Dream: Fever has a few flaws in their approach to puzzle solving that turns those “aha!” moments from satisfying to bittersweet.
Being an adventure game, the puzzles tend to suffer a bit from “moon logic,” though its solutions are more often than not intuitive. Traditionally in adventure games you grab every item you can, and just use them everywhere you can. Modern, narratively driven adventure games like the Life is Strange series has gotten away from that a bit to be more person oriented, though object finding and use is still a key component to those games. In Bad Dream: Fever a solution will not work until it is supposed to, story-wise. Some items also can’t be picked up until they’re meant to be. For some games that wouldn’t be a big deal, but for an adventure game where your main interaction is finding points on the screen that are clickable, not being able to learn about the world in a meaningful way makes the puzzles less satisfying overall at best, and frustrating in the worst case scenario. Instead of considering ways to use the objects I’d found, it would force me to have to go back over territory to find new parts of the world I could interact with.
For everything that Bad Dream: Fever stumbles with, it has something else it excels at. Its art style is great, and easily serves to amplify the uneasy atmosphere. Most environments are intentionally unfinished drawings, lacking most color except for sepia tones and the occasional VHS-like glitches. Alone, with the lights off, everything about Bad Dream: Fever feels slightly-off. Like you’re watching a nightmare, or you’re exploring a place you’re not supposed to be.
While there are a few things that Bad Dream: Fever is very clever about, it’s representative of a niche genre that may not be immediately appealing to everyone. There are potentially long stretches of head scratching while you try to determine what to do, and the order in which you do things further adds to confusion–but the story is just clever and compelling enough to warrant a look. This is a game that’s not without its audience–it’s just a very niche one. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that is necessarily transcendent about it that furthers or shakes up the genre or makes it stand out beyond a few clever mechanics, a truly unsettling story and a world that I can’t get out of my head.
Bad Dream: Fever is available now on Windows with an anticipated, but date to be determined, Nintendo Switch release also planned.
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