These days anybody can make a horror game, but just because they can doesn’t mean they should, especially when they settle for the bare minimum and make a game that does not even come close to being scary.
Shut Eye is just another entry in the latest line of supposed horror games that gives players bottom of the barrel gameplay and horror that is no scarier than a bunny rabbit. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much when I saw this game available for only a couple of dollars on the Switch eShop, but being optimistic, I thought maybe this game could be a diamond in the rough, and just maybe the developer put in some pretense of effort. But no.
Even if it is the bare minimum, a horror game should have some semblance of plot, right? The player should be aware of the stakes, or have some understanding of why the monsters are after them. Sure, through environmental design you, as the player, can surmise some level of idea. For Shut Eye, that is you are some random kid who is up during the night trying to survive against the random enemies that come for him.
But why are we doing this? Surely the game would provide something as simple as a text display to explain the kid’s fear. Am I in a dream? Are the “monsters after us" things that scare our protagonist? These are the things I want to know and still don't know, even after playing the game. Again, this can be chalked up to cheap design, but we should have a reason for our survival, and some understanding of what the kid is going through, which is something Shut Eye doesn’t provide.
In terms of gameplay, Shut Eye tasks the player with surviving the night, akin to games like Five Nights at Freddy’s. You sit on your bed waiting for monsters to come out, but you can also wander about the room with the tap of a certain button, allowing you to walk to a set location. These locations being towards the window, the top bunk, or under the bed, and the player character will linger for a moment and then head back to the bed and sit and wait, as the player you don’t have much freedom and will sit and wait until you have to do something.
There is a little more to it, however. To survive, you have to manage two key factors. The first is your battery power. This manages your flashlight, and your only true defense against the monsters: a music box. You also have to handle your anxiety which will quickly tick up whenever you are sitting in darkness or have to use the music box, which makes your anxiety rise even faster. The flashlight is required to help calm you down, and using the flashlight lowers your anxiety level but only about half as fast as it rises while it’s turned off.
The scariest thing about Shut Eye is its battery power, because you can’t sit with your torch off for too long since your batteries will quickly drain, besides also needing them to use your music box. What makes these so scary is more the irony of how terrible the batteries are, which in turn is used more to build an artificial sense of tension. For every hour you survive, batteries are replenished around the room so you simply need to find them. Perhaps this is supposed to add tension, but it never did. As long as you are careful managing your anxiety and batteries, keeping yourself together is rarely a concern.
The monsters themselves were also disappointing. I get the impression that the developers were going for a child’s sense of fear, but the monsters are rarely imposing. You face a spider like creature with a doll head that looks like it was ripped straight out of Sid’s room in "Toy Story." Alongside that you have a doll that sits in the distance, a lawn gnome, and a teddy bear with blood around its mouth. With a quick flick of the music box they are gone, and even as your nights get longer, with each passing level they remain nothing more than a laugh-inducing inconvenience.
It is a shame really, since these monsters could have been an imposing and serious threat. When moving about the room to look for batteries, you can often come face-to-face with some of your threats, and it feels more like they are just trying to say “hello, yes I am coming for you." You don’t want to make things unfair on the player, but surely they could have made it possible for the monsters to get you when you are literally face-to-face. Even when they are inches from getting you there is still a large window to make them go away. I can see elements of potential for what could have been done, but they squandered that.
If you are looking for a fun, perhaps even exciting horror game to play then, stay well away from Shut Eye. Its cheap price may seem enticing, but the key word for Shut Eye is just that, cheap. It looks and feels like a quick cash grab that someone threw together in the space of an afternoon. I wanted to like this game but there was no real sense of tension to greet the player, and no story to explain what is going on. Shut Eye is a carbon copy of barely better horror games and should be avoided. When the scariest thing about your horror game is the life in your batteries, you shouldn’t make a horror game.