Not worth getting out of bed for.
Sleep Tight has all of the hallmarks of a great idea. A love letter to childhood imagination, it draws on the fable of monsters in the bedroom and has you fighting back from within pillow forts using NERF rifles and Super Soakers. The concept is marvellous, on paper. But uninspiring and repetitive design means that the fantasy never truly becomes reality.
Sleep Tight plays like a hybrid of a tower defense and twin-stick shooter. Experimenting with where to place your defences is fun, at first. Should you build one large exterior wall like a castle? Scatter little defence silos across the level? Or funnel your enemies through a labyrinthine path of death?
Unfortunately, this experimentation is short-lived. Once you find a defence layout that works, there’s little incentive to try anything else. It doesn’t help that the choice of structures is oversimplified. A tower defense typically features a variety of tower types, from long-range to area-of-effect. Sometimes they even factor in anti-air and elemental damage. Sleep Tight merely has a single generic turret that you can upgrade to do more damage – that’s it.
It’s no wonder that repetition sets in after a few runs as you settle into the same routine: build a turret and a wall, maybe upgrade something, fight a wave, build another turret and wall, fight another wave, rinse and repeat.
Awkward mechanics can also make building your defences a chore. Placement is free-form but there are large, invisible margins around everything. This makes it a game of trial and error as you desperately try to wiggle a turret into the perfect space. Too often you’ll be scuppered by invisible walls, unable to place a building where you want it – even if you’re merely trying to replace one which existed there previously.
This awkwardness is compounded by how your character has to place and upgrade each structure by hand. This helps sell the fantasy that your kid is building the pillow fort by themselves, sure. But it constrains the designs that you’re able to create and means you can accidentally block yourself off.
Walls and turrets aren’t your only line of defence against the nighttime scourge, of course. There’s a range of weaponry from dart guns to snipers and even water balloon ‘grenade’ launchers, but ammo is quickly burned through and can eat into your resources. This is another issue with Sleep Tight: its ruthless scarcity.
You collect suns after surviving each night and stars from defeated monsters, which act as two forms of currency for a variety of items. Powerups can temporarily double your speed or provide an overshield. Upgrades unlock new items and bolster your attack and defence. And some of your budget will go towards health, ammo and repairing or upgrading your defences. All of these options give Sleep Tight the variety it desperately needs. But there are so many ways to spend your currency, it never feels like you have enough.
This necessitates more focused strategies: bunker up surrounded by walls and turrets, or go lighter on the defenses and arm yourself to the hilts, knocking back powerup buffs like sweeties. The downside is that as soon as shit starts to fall apart, that’s it – it’s the beginning of the end. If a wave knocks out a bunch of your defenses, you can’t possibly afford the repairs and replacements needed to make a comeback. The aim is to prevent that initial crisis happening for as long as possible.
Other than beating your high score of nights survived, you can take on challenges to unlock new characters. The full roster is comprised of 12 cutesy kids with unique bonuses and playstyles. There’s the punky pink-headed Brooke, for instance, packing a toy SMG as standard. Unfortunately, the personality of these characters fails to shine through.
The main stumbling block is the twin-stick shooter format. All you ever see is the top of your character’s head, missing the opportunity for expressive facial animation. Spoken quips attempt to flesh the characters out but these are murderously irritating, like the saccharine voice acting of a low-rent kid’s cartoon. Stetson-donning Wyatt, for example, spouts contrived cowboy phrases such as “Like a horse to oats!” in a southern drawl. It likely won’t be long before you’ll want to mute the character voices entirely.
Sleep Tight’s creatures aren’t particularly inspired, either. Essentially Monsters Inc B-sides, they come in larger and smaller variations. You’ve got the regular-sized blue guys, the smaller blue guys and the really big blue guys. Some of the blue guys also sport a bit of purple to show that they really mean business.
All in all, Sleep Tight nails most of the basics but falters beyond that. Its efforts to adopt a Pixar-like flair are hamstrung by characters which are merely two-dimensional caricatures. This didn’t have to be the case, and the genre is no excuse. Defense Grid: The Awakening proved a decade ago that a tower defense can build atmosphere and even tell a compelling story, purely through the weight of its soundtrack and voice acting.
This lack of personality would be forgiveable if Sleep Tight had an engaging gameplay loop. But its harsh and bland format grows tiresome after a few runs. Beating your high score and unlocking new characters isn’t enough of an incentive to go through the motions time and time again. This unremarkable tower defense fails to capture the creative imagination which makes childhood so precious. A missed opportunity.
James loves a deep action-adventure game, RPG or Metroidvania. He can often be found in The Indie Game Website’s review section casting his critical eye over the latest indie games.