Saturday morning cartoons were a staple in most households. Fights ensued over which channel to watch, leaving the parental figure to negotiate a deal that made everyone happy. But as the weekends go by, sadly those Saturday morning cartoons start to go by unwatched.
So what happens to those friendly and educational puppets when no one’s there to watch? Well, we find out just what those puppets are up to in DreadXP‘s My Friendly Neighborhood.
Lights, Camera, Action
Let’s set the scene.
Location: the studio lot of the Friendly Neighborhood.
Who: Gordon O’Brian. Repairman extraordinaire.
What: A strange broadcast of the beloved children’s TV show, The Friendly Neighborhood has begun playing.
Gordon O’Brian is the quintessential repairman. He has an east coast accent that makes you believe he could truly fix anything? Check. Gruff and easily irritable? Check. Hairy arms? Check and check. Basically, the perfect person to clash against the ultra-bright and kooky set of The Friendly Neighborhood. After getting a work order from his boss, Gordon finds himself in the supposedly vacant studio lot with a supposedly easy task: stop the broadcast via the antennae on the roof.
But of course, things are never that easy. The elevator leading to the roof access is jammed up (literally), causing Gordon to venture further into the grounds. Soon after journeying around, he meets Ricky, a sock-puppet adjacent friend who will act as a guide through the rest of his strange journey. After the studio stopped broadcasting, the puppets were left behind, and for a decade have been wandering the studio and surrounding areas, collecting dust and rapidly ascending into madness.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
From the second you step out of Gordon’s truck, to the sentimental end, there’s not a second where you doubt your surroundings or its inhabitants. Developers John and Evan Szymanski took care to make this world as realistic and fitting as possible. Whether it’s the cleverly tweaked famous artworks featuring the puppets, the strange unsettling gibberish-filled manifesto pages laying around, or the surreal surplus of puppet costumes hanging around, the game treats the environment as its own character. The cast of knock-off Muppets follow you throughout your journey, ready to attack once you get close enough. While they don’t rip you open to hang your entrails from the rafters, the developers made them even more unsettling.
The puppets never stop talking. Like almost never (besides if they are knocked out for a little bit). Their rants seem harmless at first, but once you begin listening to them, you start to see just how deranged the puppets have become. Their stories begin to get jumbled, they stop themselves before saying anything too incriminating, or they reveal something so unnerving that it makes you stop (if you’re in a safe spot) to just listen to the ramblings. Similarly, loading into a new room and hearing their faint incoherent ramblings makes your heart tick just a little bit faster knowing they might be just around the corner.
Although the main cast has their own cute yet terrifying quirks, you meet some other friends along the way as well. Just when you begin to get the hang of the environment, the new friends through in a few strange elements to throw you off and keep you on your toes. Whether it’s squeaky-voiced kid-sized puppets who leap out at you, hungry dogs ready to chase you down, or an oddly Gritty-reminiscent fella who hangs around in the pipes ready to bonk you.
Maps, Guns, Tokens, Oh My!
As you progress through the Neighborhood, the game is roughly separated into levels. This includes levels like Stage 4, the Office, Sewers, Basement, etc. as you navigate through. Luckily, the maps you find when entering new areas helps you to see which keys you’ll need or what rooms you haven’t explored through. Sometimes a room will hold precious items like new keys, cassette cheat tapes, or highly valuable resources like ammo, duct tape, and health/stamina boosts.
Using two comparables of Sesame Street and Resident Evil 4 might seem unlikely, but boy do they make sense here. Combat and inventory are another worrying factor here. Ammo and duct tape are sparse. But, luckily, can usually can be found in new rooms for the assortment of aptly-created weapons at your disposal. Plus, you get to Tetris your ammo, weapons, keys, health/stamina boosts, and random fun things you find in your inventory. So Resident Evil 4 fans, time to dust off those rearranging skills or say goodbye to that health boost.
Not only do you have to look out for crazy puppets, ammo, keys, and puzzle pieces, but tokens. Players can use tokens to save their progress, heal themselves, or buy chocolate bars to give extra speed boosts. Which can be highly useful when choosing to avoid Puppet v Gordon conflicts.
While the atmosphere, audio, and gameplay of My Friendly Neighborhood are an utter delight. There are a few quality-of-life-associated things that made the broadcast get a little fuzzy.
While there are plenty of items to interact with, finding said items can be tricky. This includes looking through rooms to find a drawer you didn’t search through containing a few tokens or scrolls of ammo. In a similar stitch to range, learning combat and puppet-reaching range can be quite the learning curve. There were definitely a few (a lot of) times I died in the beginning trying to learn the proximity for the wrench or where exactly to aim with the Rolodexer. However, looking over the entire alphabet spelled on the floor after wrangling puppets is fun to see.
My Friendly Neighborhood is a cast of fun and nerve-racking characters and environments. Whether you’re someone new to the horror genre or a bloodied veteran, you won’t be disappointed with so many (mostly) smiling faces around. It’s a sweet and nostalgic message, leaving you wanting to revisit those Saturday morning rituals.
My Friendly Neighborhood is currently available for PC on Steam and Itch.io. A console version for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S will be announced at a later date.