As you’ve probably gathered from the title, this is a review of one of Poppy’s Playtime.
Yes, the one with the long-limbed, blue-furred creature you’ve probably seen in countless YouTube thumbnails.
Up until I had to play the game for evaluation, I had managed to completely avoid experiencing it. From the outside, it seemed like another throwaway indie horror game that was inexplicably aimed at children somehow, much like how the soon-to-be feature film Five Nights at Freddy’s got its start.
There is also an astounding amount of merch available for the game in a number of places, which confused me just as much as when I came across plushies for Bendy and the Ink Machine or Hello Neighbor. These are games that I wouldn’t think have the video game industry presence to warrant widely-available merch like that, but have amassed a rabid following online after YouTube and Twitch creators picked them up. But, again, this was all before I’d spent any time actually PLAYING Poppy’s Playtime.
But, now that I have, I kind of get it.
Poppy’s Playtime is a single-player, episodic horror game for PC and mobile platforms that is developed and published by the indie studio Mob Entertainment, which appears to have made this single universe its entire identity. The game currently exists as two separate chapters, the free Chapter 1: “A Tight Squeeze”, and a paid Chapter 2: “Fly in a Web”. This format is interesting in that it gives players a pretty meaty, free introduction to the admittedly very interesting characters and world, which seems like it would be plenty effective at enticing players into purchasing chapters as they release. Speaking of these extra chapters, they seem to be reasonably priced depending on the platform. Chapter 2 runs for $9.99 on Steam, $4.99 on Android, and $5.99 on iOS.
Ok, so the value proposition is pretty good, but how is the game itself? Well, my initial boot didn’t work out so great. I don’t know if fiddling with the graphics settings prior to jumping in messed something up, but the audio and video for the intro video were out of sync, and the “loading” screen before you get dropped into gameplay never went away even though I could hear and control my character behind it. Not a great start, and it definitely felt pretty janky, but a quick restart got me into the game just fine.
My second impression was mixed, at least at first. The opening environment is simple and plain to the point of being downright generic, and that made me wary of what my next few hours would look like.
When the player gains control, they find themself in the lobby of a long-abandoned toy factory, which they are investigating after the disappearance of its staff. You would think this area would have more going on besides a few torn open toy boxes and some broken glass but, it’s important to keep in mind that the game is also being developed for smartphones. Besides, things improve, very, very quickly from that point. Primarily, once you get the GrabPack.
That’s when things get good.
Armed with the game’s equivalent of the Omni-Directional Movement Gear from Attack on Titan, you can grab distant items, activate special doors, and even conduct electricity from point A to B to solve puzzles. It’s a pretty ingenious mechanic that is implemented in a way that genuinely surprised me, and figuring out the puzzles in this first chapter took me back, strange as it sounds, to playing Half-Life 2 for the first time.
Unlike Half-Life 2 though, Poppy’s Playtime is both far more subtle AND more in your face in terms of the scares it brings to the table. Chapter 1 is roughly three hours long, and a good majority of that time is spent seeing the Big Bad Blue Boi “Huggy Wuggy” peeking out of unexpected places, or just catching a glimpse of one of his long appendages as they try to catch up to the rest of his body. Curiously, the game doesn’t accompany any of these early instances with a loud audio sting to let you know you’ve just seen something scary, the sounds typically associated with a “jumpscare”. The developers just let that creepy image sit in your vision, and then in your mind, which is just brilliant and very effective.
Those tasteful scares persist for a while, but then they give way to full-on, heart-pounding pursuits where the fuzzy blue entity chases you not just through the halls of the warehouse, but also through the enclosed assembly line/service areas that were introduced early on. These spaces felt scary and claustrophobic enough WITHOUT Murder Gumby hot on your tail, so having that extra layer of fear felt pretty effective.
By the end of Chapter 1 (the only chapter I played), I was completely surprised by what I’d experienced. Just about every part of Poppy’s Playtime felt very well thought out, and at no point did I feel like I was playing the dumb kid magnet, mindless merch-seller, half-cocked attempt at a multimedia IP that I’ve perceived the game to be since its release in 2021. Mob Entertainment definitely has something here, and disregarding the technical issue I experienced, Poppy’s Playtime definitely has the chops to become something that becomes as big as Five Nights at Freddy’s. I’m also definitely not the first person to notice this either, since Mob Entertainment has already announced a Poppy feature film is in the works.
Considering the fact that Chapter 1 is free and pretty substantial, Chapter 2 is relatively cheap, and Chapter 3 is on the way, I’d say now is a good time to check out Poppy’s Playtime for yourself. Things move fast in the “indie horror/survival” genre, and it feels like the game has been around forever despite only coming out a few years ago, but there’s definitely a lot more on the way for Poppy’s Playtime.