Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.
The early 90s were a good time for games about preventing stupid entities from getting themselves killed. Lemmings was the leading light, of course, with the likes of Sink or Swim and The Humans on its heels, while the less fondly-remembered Sleepwalker plowed a similar furrow via puzzle-platforming. I was briefly obsessed by it, even though I didn’t enjoy the game itself at all.
Whether the main character was the titular somnambulist or his bipedal dog who attempted to steer him out of the way of obstacles during his unconscious forays into danger is up for debate. Certainly though, it shares with Lemmings the concept of keeping someone inept alive, as opposed to getting a player-character to the level’s end. Conceptually, I still think Sleepwalker’s not far short of genius, this idea of altering the world rather than the controlling the character in order to ensure their survival.
I’ve tried (and thus far failed) to get a couple of games off the ground using similar conceits, though those would have involved the player directly controlling the world around the character rather than, as was the case here, making a cartoon dog push some things around. They wouldn’t, I hope, have been as frustrating and repetitive and instant death-y as Sleepwalker was either, which was always my moral struggle with it.
I’d bought it, I’d invested in the idea of its brilliance thanks to heavy promotion from that year’s Comic Relief campaign (for a couple of years, Comic Relief was the highlight of my calendar, prompting me to perform small charity stunts and to VHS-record then obsessively rewatch the annual TV show), and I told myself time and time again that this was The Videogame. But I couldn’t, in fact, stand it when I played it, and it took some weeks before I could admit that to myself.
And yet, even today, some tiny part of my brain continues to believe that Sleepwalker was the game to end all games. When will I awake from my own strange dream?