Secret Neighbor | Review | Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Hologryph, Eerie Guest Studios
  • Publisher: tinyBuild Games
  • Release Date: 26/8/2021
  • Price: £17.99 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by tinyBuild Games

Introducing: Secret Neighbor Review

Secret Neighbor is not the sort of game that I normally would have chosen to review. Mostly because it’s a spin off of another game that I have never really spent any time with. Of course I am familiar with the premise of Hello Neighbor. It was so ubiquitous on YouTube in the mid-to-late 2010’s that it was hard to have been in the YouTube gaming sphere and not know at least that much. Heck, I knew it was pretty big just by the fact that it had plushies in mainstream stores and as prizes at my local amusement park. However, after reviews at launch (from a prior early access state) were less than glowing, It was one that I just ended up ultimately passing on and it pretty much immediately faded out of the zeitgeist. Still, it seemed that Secret Neighbor was actually fairly standalone, so just the concept would be enough for me to do well, so I ended up diving in without much by way of expectations, so let’s see if this game ended up being a strong standalone title. 

Here comes the white van

In Secret Neighbor, you take one of two roles. Either you are a child who is trying to break another stolen child out of confinement behind several layers of locks on a door, or you are “the neighbor”, an adult who put them there for what I can only assume are nefarious purposes. It’s actually a concept that I could see making for a cool movie, like a kids thriller, but this isn’t a movie, it’s a game. The story doesn’t really go any deeper than the concept unfortunately, which is kind of what I assumed it would be given that this is an online multiplayer game, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t at least a little disappointing. I guess if I wanted more story content, I would have to play the game that this one is spun off fro huh?

The implications of the setup are also just really strange. It seems to imply that the neighbor has the ability to shapeshift to some extent, which wasn’t a factor in the original game to my knowledge. Is this some new supernatural element? Would it have been, perhaps, more cohesive to have one of the children be a spy for the neighbor than the neighbor in child form? Or am I just really overthinking what is just a little gameplay detail?

Or the creeper with the sack

Secret Neighbor bills itself a social deduction game, but if I’m being honest, I don’t think that there is much deduction going on here. It’s an asymmetrical multiplayer game with a whole squad against one person. The idea here is that nobody knows who the titular and dangerous neighbor is and it’s your job to figure it out while also trying to get into the locked door. Here’s where the problem comes in, once you have figured it out, there’s not really much that you can do about it besides play a big game of keep away from that person. There’s no way to vote them out or anything like that. This leads to every player tending to take an “everyone for themselves” approach to getting things done. It leads to a chaotic experience with people getting picked off one by one and being so distrustful of each other that you might not see another player for most of the time that you are playing. My experience with others was having things thrown at me in order to determine which I was. It doesn’t help that you are not told when one of the other kids gets captured, so you might be the only person left in the map without even knowing it.

At first I was confused as to why a good 60-75% of players were choosing the same child/class when going into a match. At first, I thought it might be a tactic to better blend into the crowd if you were seen transforming between neighbor and child forms. However, by the time I rotated to giving that character a shot, I completely understood why they were. Playing as the Bagger class simply makes the game more playable. As a child, your inventory is very small, allowing you to only carry two items at a time. With how dark most of the areas in the game are, keeping your starting flashlight is nearly completely necessary. Sure, you can go without it, but it is going to present you with a strong disadvantage. However, keeping it on you leaves only one space to carry the myriad of keys and key cards that you are going to need to collect and use. The Bagger has an extra inventory slot, greatly reducing the back and forth to collect and use these items. On one hand, I can see what the thought process was when limiting the inventory, giving the players reason to work together to carry everything they need. However, as numbers dwindle, it just becomes more of a frustration. It also isn’t helped by how the game design incentivizes everyone to fend for themselves already.

Run away! Run away!

Perhaps the biggest problem with Secret Neighbor, though, is that it’s just plain not fun to play. At least I didn’t have much fun. As a kid, it’s just running around a poorly lit and confusingly laid out map opening drawers and cabinets in order to find the keys and key cards that you need. Sure, there are a handful of other items, but, like I said before, your inventory is so limited that you are not incentivized to pick them up. Getting caught by the neighbor is also an instant death sentence for most players as well, since only one of the child classes has an ability that allows them to escape his grasp. As the neighbor, you’re so frankly overpowered that it becomes little more than a game of hide and seek. There are abilities that you can charge and traps that you can set, but there’s not really any reason to go through that effort, because you can just instantly grab and rid yourself of the kids from the very start.

There are also just a ton of other small issues that end up conglomerating in a bad time. For example, the lack of a tutorial, at least as far as I could see, meant that you might go into your first match not even knowing what the goal is. There are not that many maps, but the fact that they are laid out in such a winding way means that you might end up getting completely lost if you don’t know them very well. Obviously, having knowledge of a map is something that will help with most competitive games, but in this case I felt like it was almost vital to know the map in order to stand even the slightest fighting chance.

Too slow and you’ll be trapped

Visually, I think things are a bit of a mess here. I’ve already mentioned that the game is fairly dark in most places, which does make things pretty hard to see, but what you can see doesn’t look the best. It’s a lot of very simple shapes that don’t look like a step up from the last game in this franchise. It’s not awful in terms of design, since simple can be a legitimate style. However, the execution leaves much to be desired. Shadows from characters have a really blocky edge to them and the animations have a tendency to look kind of silly at the best of times. There was also a carpet that I encountered where the texture of everything but the edge would vanish for me and reappear depending on where I was standing at that very moment.

The sound is likewise rather simple. There’s not much about it that stands out at all. There’s not a lot of music and what is there is fairly unmemorable. Sound effects are similarly simple. It’s one of those cases where they get the job done, but it’s not as though I am being wowed by anything that Secret Neighbor has to offer. The only thing that did make me smile was the voice work on the kids. When you indicate something to the other players, your child will say something about it. The voices are cute and got to me in a way I didn’t expect.

He’s coming for you

So so dark

Technically everything ran just fine, but I will say that load times were just a touch longer than I would have liked. I am not sure if this is a case of the level taking a long time to get settled and ready for everyone due to the generation of the placement of keys and key cards, or if this was just a case of it taking the game a hot minute to put everyone into the lobby. Cross-play is a bit of tangled mess though. While this game is available on all the major systems, phones, and PC, be sure to double check if you’ll be able to play between the ones you want to. For example, iOS and PS4 can play with each other, but PS4 cannot play with Xbox, however Xbox can play with PC. If you intend to play this on a different platform with a friend, just be sure to double check the compatibility before committing to your purchase.

You just might not see it coming

Secret neighbor is not a game that I see myself coming back to once I have finished up this review. It’s not the worst thing that I have played this year or anything like that, but it’s simply not very fun to play, at least not for me. However, if this is the kind of game that you think you might like playing with some of your friends because you already have a connection to Hello Neighbor, I think you’re already aware of the eccentricities of this franchise and what you’re getting yourself into. That being said, be wary of the problems this one does carry and be wary of the microtransactions that lay just beyond the threshold of your purchase.

Pros

  • Kid voices are cute

Cons

  • Levels are sprawling and too dark
  • Inventory is exceptionally limited
  • You’re not informed when another player is taken out
  • Neither side of the asymmetrical gameplay is particularly fun

Verdict

Unless you’re committed to the world of Hello Neighbor already, this is going to be one that it’s best to skip.

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