Bad Dream: Coma, an old-school style point-and-click adventure game, is disturbingly charming. The aesthetic is that of sketches drawn on blotted, stained paper. Throughout its 8 chapters, you will move from one static screen to the next searching for items, solving riddles, and trying to understand the rules of this strange and captivating dreamscape you’ve drifted off into for reasons unknown.
I was a big fan of these types of games as a kid, having played the great Roberta Williams’ King’s Quest series, as well as Sierra’s other popular franchise Space Quest, and even a little Leisure Suit Larry, thanks to my parents not being prudes. I haven’t played quite so many of these games as of late, but Bad Dream: Coma is the perfect gateway game for anyone interested in giving the genre a whirl.
Coma doesn’t rely on clunky, hit-or-miss text entry. It’s simply an interactive game of clicking, but it is important that you choose what you click wisely. Upon starting the game, I immediately punched a bird (accidentally) and ruled out a Good ending less than one minute in. Your menu screen keeps track of certain achievements (good and bad), as well as your three possible endings – Good, Neutral, and Bad. Punching a bird to death will immediately nix the good ending. While this was a bad start to the game, I did eventually start a second game where I tried a more pacifist style approach, as opposed to passing my fist through every crow I met. Sure, once I found out that I had ruined my good-guy run in my initial playthrough, I slugged the other crow in the first screen too. I embraced my inner Dennis Reynolds. And yes, there was a third crow, and a fourth if you must know, but who likes crows?
The game is dark, but like I said in the opening, it’s disturbingly charming. The art style is well done, not overly elaborate, but consistent when it needs to be, and jarring at just the right moments. Chapters like the Cemetery and the Forest have one or two consistent hues that give them an individual look and feel, despite the almost complete lack of color otherwise.
I was pleased by the game’s bleak yet minimalist design. The art style consists of mostly static hand-drawn scenes that look like they were doodled on the paper your fish and chips were wrapped up in. Discolorations, and outright stains, manage to enhance but never distract from the artwork.
You’ll encounter mysterious creatures and strange inhabitants who either exist in the world, or seek to understand it. One such person is a mystery man, who appears at certain times to offer up cryptic clues about your predicament. During your first encounter, he tells you that everyone is trapped here inside of a dream, and no one can wake up. He explains that everything is an illusion and that the monsters, blood, and wounds are not real, and that the only real things here are pain and fear.
As is the case with such games, you are given information piecemeal, and gain a greater understanding of things through your own exploration. Notes and posters are scattered throughout the areas, some are just torn off pieces, but offer enough information to allow you to speculate on things, or draw some conclusions. Who is this missing nurse? Does she work at the hospital I visited?
There are times when the game can be frustrating in that way all point-and-click games can be. An item you need can simply be hard to spot, causing you to wander the same sections several times until your cursor identifies a key that was sitting on a counter (and merely very hard to see) the whole time.
Luckily, the puzzles in the game are a nice mix of simple common sense problem solving, interspersed with other, more cerebral ones that rely on dream logic (one section involving an infected computer comes to mind).
Another section has you gathering the ingredients to make an energy drink. As someone who drinks them from time to time, while also knowing they’re not necessarily the best thing for you, I found the disgusting ingredients list to be a clever dig at them.
The game even plays with its own aesthetic vibe, and the fact that the game resembles sketches in a ragged notebook, allowing for solutions that are meta in nature. One character begs you to erase them from existence in order to end their torment. Another area sees you having to drawn your own conclusion to resolve an issue.
I did find some parts of the game to be a bit out of place, such as the Spot the Difference puzzles, and one part where you have to do a Paint By Numbers drawing. None of it is really challenging, and it seems like busy work, but it’s a minor quibble. The game itself is rather polished, with the exception of a few weirdly-glaring spelling and grammar errors that should have been noticed by someone.
While it is a disturbing game full of imagery such as shattered dolls and body horror, everything is done in such a way that it’s almost quaint. There are no cheap jump scares. It’s more of a mood piece than a straight horror game.
I won’t spoil the story as the experience itself is part of the appeal to these games. Besides, depending on your choices, things can go several different ways. There is no set solution to any chapter, and things can be accomplished in multiple ways, although some are deemed better (or more altruistic) than others.
There is a surprising amount of replayability in small, seemingly insignificant choices made. For example, you can find the wire you need to complete the Bridge puzzle by doing two very different things. It’s got heavy Brains vs. Brawn vibe going for it.
Sometimes the Nintendo eShop has too many games on sale, and I end up buying a bunch of bargain titles only to discover that there was a reason they were selling most of them for under a dollar. The line between hidden gem and shovel-ware is often hard to spot. Thankfully, this is a game that is worth both your money and your time. I’ve been told this is a series of games, and I’m interested enough based on this game to check out the others. It’s not a long game, and can be completed in a weekend, or even in a few hours if you’re an experienced point-and-clicker, but you’ll enjoy your time in it’s sparse but engrossing world.
Bad Dream: Coma, from developer Desert Fox, and publisher Ultimate Games, is available for Nintendo Switch, as well as PC and Mac. This review was written for, and played on, the Nintendo Switch version.