A deeper look at the tragic past of a villain, but the returning horrors are not welcome ones. Find out why in our Hello Neighbor Hide & Seek review.
Hello Neighbor is somewhat of an anomaly: a game that was largely panned by critics at launch (sitting on a tepid OpenCritic average of 42) yet boasts a surprisingly large fanbase. There’s now a Hello Neighbor “universe” with two more games, a novel series, and merch that includes a Neighbor Funko Pop and even a range of McFarlane playsets and figures. While baffling to some there’s obviously a demand there, no doubt driven by the game’s popularity among YouTubers and streamers.
For those who’ve never heard of Hello Neighbor, it’s a bizarre, janky hodgepodge of genres: a first-person stealth puzzler with a healthy dose of platforming. Children have been going missing in the small suburban town of Raven Brooks and it doesn’t take long to work out who is behind these strange disappearances. As a child, you decide to enter the Neighbor’s home and investigate just what is going on while making sure you aren’t his next victim.
What follows is a series of puzzles that often require you to build platforms, flip switches, and collect key items from around the house including a variety of tools. It’s an interesting, creepy premise though the game wasn’t without its fair share of issues from confusing puzzles and rough first-person platforming to the Neighbor’s sporadic AI and a myriad of bugs.
For Dynamic Pixels, one thing that worked in the developer’s favor was a shift in art direction. Since it was revealed a couple of years ago, the game became increasingly more stylised, the end result looking like a Lemony Snicket/Cartoon Network crossover – peculiar and eccentric with a sinister undertone. Not only did this imbue Hello Neighbor with a more unique sense of character, but it also meant that the game could target a younger audience that would, in turn, grow into a thriving fanbase.
On the surface, Hello Neighbor doesn’t have much of a story. After escaping the house your character moves to the city only to return to Raven Brooks many years later, facing off against the Neighbor in a bizarre dream sequence, his home gradually turning into a rickety fortress held together by boards and nails.
You never really learn who he is or what exactly is going on in that basement. However, as you play Hello Neighbor you get the sense that it’s trying to tell a much deeper story, as evidenced by the occasional game over cutscene and fairly unassuming clues scattered about the house. Fans have continued to theorize, picking apart the game’s four, fairly brief acts to find some meaning. With Hello Neighbor: Hide & Seek, Dynamic Pixels finally fills in some of the blanks.
It’s a prequel, and one that focuses on the Neighbor’s son and daughter. Each of the five stages has them dive into their own imaginations, the scenarios they encounter becoming more twisted following the sudden death of their mother and as their family life starts to deteriorate. As in the original game, characters rarely speak and when they do it’s conveyed through Sims-like gobbledygook, leaving players to infer what is being said. Still, the game manages to hit home with a couple of its more impactful cutscenes, painting the villainous Neighbor in a completely new light, albeit a fairly tragic one.
Actually playing Hide & Seek can be somewhat of an ordeal, however. For the most part, it’s pretty much the same as Hello Neighbor. There’s an overriding focus on puzzles and platforming while attempting to evade an ever-present stalker who, in this case, is the Neighbor’s son.
The five stages are all structured similarly – imaginary playboxes in which you’ll need to collect hidden toys and place them in a basket to advance. The way these toys are carefully stashed away means that you’ll need to search every nook and cranny, exploring hard-to-reach places and keeping an eye out for key items that may be of use.
Some of the solutions can be genuinely fun and rewarding though others are simply too vague. It wouldn’t be such an issue if Hide & Seek didn’t demand that you retrieve every single collectible in order to clear a stage – there are plenty to find and only having one or two left with no idea where they are can be infuriating to say the least.
With the Neighbor himself being largely out of focus, that slight horror element from the original game doesn’t really carry over. Creeping around his house, unsure where he was going to appear led to some tense moments that you just don’t get with Hide & Seek. Evading the Neighbor’s son is easy and while the stages become more surreal there’s an altogether lighter vibe this time around.
For those who simply must know what happens in the lead up to that first game, Hello Neighbor: Hide & Seek is essential for filling in those blanks. However, those who are simply looking for a fun game to play are likely to be left deeply unsatisfied. Unpolished and often times confusing, it’s a weird mishmash of genres that, despite its issues, is at least helping to popularise an incredibly niche genre of children’s horror in video games.
Hide & Seek is sure to go down well with fans, and with another (multiplayer-focused) game already in the works, it will be interesting to see how Dynamic Pixels continues to build the franchise in future, hopefully tightening its core design and rounding off some of those rougher edges.
Hello Neighbor Hide & Seek review code on PS4 provided by the publisher.
Hello Neighbor Hide & Seek is out now on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.