Sleep is extraordinarily important for function, but it's often the most important part of our lives that is overlooked. No one would blame you for having a bad sleep schedule. After all, the best time to play video games is in the evening, night, and overnight, as the internet is stronger and your skills just happen to be better. Still, we are not synthetic beings or machines, as much as I'd like to be one. We are mortal, and sleep is extremely important. Everything is powered by sleep and how we take care of ourselves affects our sleep. Enter Melatonin, a game all about sleep but woven in like a rhythm game.
At first glance, I was incredibly puzzled. How can a developer make a rhythm game focused on sleep? Music and rhythms would be the last thing anyone would want to think about regarding sleep unless it's white noise like rain falling. The team at the appropriately-named half asleep games came up with a concept greatly inspired by visual storytelling. "We wanted to tell a story without saying anything. The game Unpacking was our strongest inspiration as it was a game that said so much in its gameplay and visuals. We wanted to do the same here."
The moment I started playing, I could see that was the intention. The first level had our main lead drifting to sleep on a couch, a lived-in space. The TV turned on, an open box of pizza and a half-eaten donut. The level then goes into the dream, in which our character flies endlessly, eating flying pizza and donuts. The levels are portrayed in soft pastels and a bevy of pinks and purples to create a calming sensation on the player. Playing this in the busy and hustling Expo hall floor of PAX West, I felt relaxed and calm, even though the game wasn't quite as calm.
In each level of Melatonin, players are ranked based on their score. Scores are determined by how well they hit the notes and how many are missed. For the demo, this section had 5 levels. To reach the final level, a minimum number of stars had to be attained. Upon completing the final level, the player can then move to the next section. Naturally, with four more levels to play, I moved on to the next one.
The next level had another character, swiping a credit card and buying things at a retail store. The same rhythm applied. Hitting the button at the right moment increased the score. For this level, focusing on money and retail, the sound production was on-point. Where the first level made munching and chomping sounds, this level made cash and register sounds. It was a very nice touch that kept things interesting and provided each level with a unique identity.
Rhythm games, as fun as they are, can be a hard sell, especially with the gameplay mechanics and the ability to reach out to players with various skill levels or needing special assistance. Fortunately, Melatonin has a bevy of accessibility options, from input calibration to visual cues and [prompts. "We wanted to make Melatonin something anyone can play, and these options make the game customizable and personable. If you have difficulty with rhythm games, these options will assist in creating a better experience." Initially, when I started the demo, I didn't have any visual cues but turning them on greatly assisted in allowing me to play the game. Keep in mind the game was still a challenge, but it was a challenge that I felt comfortable with. For other players, these options serve as a means to best enjoy the game the way they see fit.
The remainder of the levels all introduced different characters. One character was even a gamer themselves, playing VR and timing the rhythm to shooting UFOs. The final level became an amalgamation of the previous levels, offering snippets of each level in rapid succession and with their own musical rhythms in place. It felt like a boss fight, providing a solid challenge but nothing that would be deemed frustrating.
My time with Melatonin was great, but I was struck by how innovative the concept turned out to be. Sleep is a subject matter that demands more research, especially as sleep is something that, if not checked, can lead to serious conditions from insomnia to sleep apnea, which then, in turn, can negatively affect both the mind and the cardiovascular system of the human body, from the heart to the lungs. Melatonin already brings the viewpoint of how our lives, and the things we do during the day, affect us when we are at rest. There are also the concepts of dreams and what dreams can infer, which is still very much an ongoing scientific pursuit. Fear, stress, ambitions, goals, and dreams can be an indication of many aspects of a person's life.
Melatonin is shaping to be a strong game, one that says a lot without saying much, and it manages to be both an entertaining and visually pleasing game. What happens next on Melatonin's journey remains a secret, but this is shaping to be one memorable dream I don't want to wake up from right away.
Melatonin will be out on PC and Nintendo Switch sometime in 2023.