Nightmares Within Nightmares

by Grahamw

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Within Nightmares Within Nightmares Within…, November 21, 2022
by Draconis
Related reviews: Ectocomp 2022

You’re trapped in a nightmare. But not just a nightmare. Every time you wake up it just changes—you might wake up from being chased by a monster to find your lover crumbling to dust in your arms. (Always “your lover”, not gendered, which is a nice touch even if it sometimes makes for awkward writing.)

This is a choice-based horror puzzle game written in Ink. Your goal is to break out of the recursive nightmare you’re in, and at first it seems like a Groundhog Day time loop, where there’s one “correct” path through the tree of options that will set you free. But there isn’t; there’s something else you have to do.

(Spoiler - click to show)You need to use information from each nightmare in the others. When you’re being chased by a monster, you can run into a tattoo parlor, which reminds you of matching tattoos you and your lover got—and those tattoos are how you break out of the nightmare where they fall apart into dust. This works especially well in Ink, which keeps a transcript of all your past choices for you to consult.

The “aha!” moment of figuring out this puzzle was very cool. Unfortunately, the end result didn’t feel much different from “find the one correct path”. I just couldn’t figure out how to use the clues I was given: (Spoiler - click to show)my lover wanted to go to the church and then get coffee, but the solution isn’t to go to the church or the coffee shop, it’s to go behind the church. In hindsight I can see how this makes sense, but while playing, I ended up lawnmowering the last nightmare (trying each option one by one) until I came across the one that worked.

All in all, it’s a very cool idea, and I like the sort of horror on show here—it’s different from anything else I’ve played in this comp, and offers very satisfying catharsis. But my experience would have been a lot better if the clues had been a little bit clearer, and some of the red herrings removed. I understand why some red herring options need to exist, for the puzzle to be satisfying instead of “click this link to win”. But I ended up giving up on the right answer to the final puzzle because those red herrings made me think I was on completely the wrong track.