Alisa Hail reviews Hello Neighbor: Hide And Seek on Nintendo Switch.
The premise of Dynamic Pixels’ original Hello Neighbor played on our curiosity. Who hasn’t, at least in passing, considered how tempting it would be to sneak into your creepy neighbor’s house and find out what sort of sinister deeds he’s been hiding behind his walls?
Hello Neighbor: Hide and Seek serves as a prequel to the original story, explaining how our neighbor, Mr Theodore Peterson, came to be the way he is. It is also an improvement on its predecessor, even though it fails to escape a few shortcomings of its own.
The story opens on a pleasant, sunny morning with Mr Peterson’s son and daughter playing a friendly game of hide-and-seek. You take over the role of the little girl, trying to outwit her brother. Through the lens of her imagination, the familiar home transforms into an Alice in Wonderland-like domain. Furniture stretches to preposterous proportions. The ceiling and walls now absurdly high above and the ground now taking on the look of a wild grassland. Each level has a unique look, adding a childlike whimsy to the already surreal art style of the game.
Each stage comes with a set of objectives that need to be fulfilled before moving on to the next. For example, the first level requires you to retrieve several stuffed animals scattered about by your brother and delivering them to a certain location. Achieving these objectives requires solving environmental puzzles or using items you will find scattered around the stage. All the while, your brother is roaming about and if he catches you, he sends you back to the start of the level.
Hello Neighbor suffered from two major flaws: a glitchy gameplay experience and puzzles that were so out-of-the-box as to defy reason. Dynamic Pixels, clearly having learned from criticisms of their original title, did a worthy job of avoiding both of these shortcomings in Hide and Seek. The game played smoothly enough and I did not notice or come across any particular glitches during my play. There is also a handy feature that allows you to warp back to the starting point if you get stuck somewhere, like say perhaps within a giant bucket you hopped in without any clear plans as to how to get back out.
The game did carry over two issues that Dynamic Pixels has left untouched. Jumping frequently feels too airy and imprecise. Though the jump controls are certainly workable, I had hoped the developer would have tightened the controls as it does require platforming quite often. I also wish stackable objects clicked together when stacked to avoid the issue of objects falling over if you land on them incorrectly or accidentally get too close.
The puzzles in this prequel do a much better job of walking the line between creative reasoning and tying together clearly logically connected elements. Part of the original’s success was the community element needed to solve many of the puzzles without either dumb luck or spending more time than most people have or want to use in order to find the solution.
The puzzles in Hide and Seek are challenging and leave the player with a sense of satisfaction for having solved them without the frustration of trying to figure out something that was clearly not built to be discovered through reasoning alone.
You will need to collect multiple items during each stage and carry them with you in order to solve some of the puzzles. However, you can only hold four items at a time. If you find a new item while travelling around and your stash is full, you have no way to house the new item or switch it out with the one you are already carrying — without simply throwing another item down and hoping you can find it later. While doable, this certainly isn’t the most efficient way to handle item storage and becomes an unnecessary hindrance to progress.
Though the puzzle solving is fun, there is a downside to the central concept of Hide and Seek. While hiding from your neighbor in the original added an element to the game that gave it a sense of danger necessary for a stealth title, the heavy emphasis on puzzle solving and seek and find in the prequel can make having to stop what you are doing and run feel like more of a nuisance than anything else. It doesn’t help that your brother can see you from quite a distance.
Many times I thought I was in the clear and had lost myself in testing out a puzzle-solving hypothesis when I hear the telltale sound alerting me I am being pursued. I’d have to drop what I was doing and run to the nearest rock or something I can climb. This will often cause the brother’s AI to reset, forgetting where you are and you can watch him wander off into the distance before heading back to where you were. While the hide and seek component does sometimes add to the difficulty, it too often felt unnecessary given the more interesting puzzle element.
Hello Neighbor: Hide and Seek is much tighter than the original in both gameplay and puzzle design. It is clear that Dynamic Pixels has learned from past experience and implemented that into their newest title. I found myself having much more fun with this newest iteration. The puzzle-solving is the most rewarding part of Hide and Seek and in a way, I wish the hide and seek element had been left out entirely. But, when it works well, it at least adds some tension.
It is not, perhaps, the best we will see from Dynamic Pixels, but it is fun and it gives me hope the quirky developer has more up their sleeves than we know.