Growing up in the 90s, I spent a lot of time on a very familiar street with some very familiar friends. These puppet creatures kept me occupied and entertained for countless hours, and while I am beyond the age group of Sesame Street, I’ll gladly remember the good times I spent with all my friends when I was younger. The Muppets were also a huge part of my childhood, and to be fair, are still a guilty pleasure to watch in my adult years.
That’s why I knew I was in for a treat when I first stumbled across a trailer for My Friendly Neighborhood, something that looked to turn the sweet memories that I had with all my puppet pals on Sesame Street into a colorful hellscape, bound to warp my thoughts and mind while blasting them away with creative weaponry and watching their plush posteriors fly through the sky with exaggerated ragdoll physics. While My Friendly Neighborhood brings old-school horror to a new generation, is it executed well enough to keep all players enthralled, or will new-school gamers be turned away by the thought of old-school puzzle solving?
Sunny Days, Blasting The Rain Away
Let’s just start this review off with the obvious: My Friendly Neighborhood is unhinged. I never expected John and Evan Syzmanski to come knocking on my door with one of the most unique shooters I’ve jumped into in a fair bit of time, and I never realized this was something I needed. Slow, plodding, and methodical, my time in My Friendly Neighborhood was more reminiscent of Resident Evil than Call of Duty. And it completely nails the vibe.
Hailed as a Family-Friendly FPS, you won’t find blood, gore, or even stuffing flying out of these creatures, but rather, silly ragdoll physics that sends these fiber-filled freaks flying into the stratosphere. I know I’m supposed to be scared of these sentient sacks of plush goodness, but I couldn’t stop smiling while I was playing through this one. Relying on some jumpscares rather than making this a true in-your-face horror experience helps keep the action tense while not being overly frightening for younger gamers jumping into the world for the first time. It’s something you can play with the lights off for a genuinely creepy experience at times, but it isn’t going to match something like Amnesia: The Bunker, for example, and it’s better for it.
Rather than your typical gloom and doom environments, My Friendly Neighborhood is bright and colorful, blasting you in the eyes with colors and sights that will instantly transport you back to your days in diapers. Getting a chance to explore the sets during long segments of back-and-forth puzzle solving helps you see the amount of love and care they put into each part of the world, even if some low-resolution textures can take the immersion away just a little. The walls and floors are blurry and muddy, but the character designs, art design, and level design do more than enough to keep you engrossed and ready for more.
I Have An Oversized Mouth And I Must Scream
Think back to the days of your youth and remember your time with your puppet pals. What is one thing that you remember more than anything, besides their looks? For me, at least, it was their voices and the way they delivered their lines to keep me glued to the television set. My Friendly Neighborhood absolutely nails this vibe, even if there are times when the game can divulge into an auditory nightmare.
One of the most memorable moments for me during my time with MFN was the first time I encountered one of these puppets alone in the dark. A male puppet was blocking off a door, singing a happy tune and reminding us that we need to sing when we’re feeling a certain kind of way, but the tone and delivery were absolutely spot on to what I remember as a child. While I may have felt guilty later on bashing in his felt face with a pipe wrench about 5 minutes later, I’ll always have that memory to go off of. Well, that and I’ll hear it again when I come back into the room.
If you’re hoping to preserve some ammo, you’ll need to use a variety of items that you can collect and store in your attaché case, ala Resident Evil 4. One of the most useful items I encountered in my playthrough was Duct Tape, which I could use to keep these puppets in place and watch their personalities take a complete 180° turn. Gone were the happy puppets talking about singing and dancing, replaced with someone talking about smashing another puppet’s face repeatedly into the ground. It’s slightly haunting but always hilarious.
However, things can take a turn for the worst when you’re surrounded by multiple puppets. It may have been the build I was playing, but if there were more than 1 puppet in the area that you’ve loaded into, you were surrounded by their voices. It was like playing Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, but instead of the voices in your head, you were hearing 4 puppets screaming at the same time. It could get horrifyingly distracting, and make you want to leave the room before you collected everything in sight.
Old School Horror for New School Gamers
You may have noticed a lot of references to Resident Evil in this review, and that’s for good reason. My Friendly Neighborhood feels almost like a child-friendly version of the original PlayStation and Nintendo 64 iterations of the franchise. While newer RE games have done away with the majority of back-and-forth puzzles, MFN brings them back like they never went out of style. If you’re a gamer that doesn’t like backtracking, this may not be the game for you.
Thankfully, I do love backtracking, as well as the feeling of an old-school horror adventure. It’s easy to see the love and affection the developers have for the original RE franchise, emulating the door openings to new zones, the case from RE4, and the token-based save and health systems that feel like the ink ribbons for a typewriter. The love is here without a doubt, and the vibes are immaculate. You even have a quick-turn button so you can get out of Dodge as quickly as possible.
The combat even feels a bit like classic Resident Evil, but I’m not sure if you can consider that a compliment in some ways. The first weapon you will encounter is the Pipewrench, and will likely be your least favorite weapon. You need to get far too close to these petrifying puppets to give them a proper hit, and you’ll likely take a nice chunk of damage while trying to inflict some pain upon them. You’ll want to find some guns as quickly as possible.
Thankfully, even though the damage system is completely randomized, every ranged weapon in MFN feels fantastic to use, and that’s when I fell in love with the gameplay. There’s just something about using a modified Rolodex that shoots out giant brass letters of the alphabet that feels incredibly satisfying, even if a puppet will get knocked out in two shots one time and 9 shots the next. It keeps things feeling fresh, if not a little frustrating at times.
This Ain’t No Rainbow Connection
It’s a delightfully old-school romp, especially when plenty of newer-generation horror games involve walking from one spot to the next in a fairly linear line. There is no handholding here, so you’ll need to use your brains and your brawn to make it out of here alive. Save points are few and far between, and you’ll need to save up your tokens if you’re hoping not to lose out on all of your progress. There are even secret VHS tapes you can find that unlock special cheat codes that can make the next playthrough something completely different. This feels like a forgotten N64 game that finally made its way to the light in the best way possible.
Some genuinely impressive set pieces had me grinning from ear to ear like I was Norman myself. While not going into too much detail, a particular part involving a board game caught me completely off guard while I tried to cheat my way ahead, and almost had me jump out of my seat because it was completely unexpected. I promise I didn’t have to play with the lights on after that point.
However, all good things must come to an end at some point, and here is where my biggest gripes lie with My Friendly Neighborhood. While there are some tutorials, there are a few things that could be explained better, such as how to exit particular scenes. At the start of the game, you grab a piece of paper and need to exit your car. After frantically pressing buttons on my keyboard, I learned that a simple press of the right mouse button would finally let me free of what I thought would be my eternal prison. A lack of interactivity with the environment also feels like a letdown, especially when you’ve got a pipe wrench in your hand that makes no contact with the world around you. Let me break the bottles that are hanging around the world, please.
My Friendly Neighborhood has a painful amount of love and care dedicated to it. From the moment you step into the shoes of Gordon the Janitor to the moments of pure giddy joy and delight, you’re in for a ride with one of the most unique First Person Puzzle/Shooter games you’ve ever played. While there is still plenty of gunplay, the puzzles really steal the show here, alongside Norman and his friends.
While not perfect, I loved every moment that I spent in the world of My Friendly Neighborhood, and can’t wait to jump into it once again to revisit my new friends. Sure, there are some moments of frustration to be had, but is it a true old-school horror game if you aren’t ready to bash your head against the wall sometimes?
[Authors Note: I played a lot of My Friendly Neighborhood on my Steam Deck, because my PC is currently down. It plays great on it, and this review was also written on said Steam Deck via Desktop Mode, a first in Prima history.]
MY FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD
While not perfect, I loved every moment that I spent in the world of My Friendly Neighborhood, and can't wait to jump into it once again to revisit my new friends. Sure, there are some moments of frustration to be had, but is it a true old-school horror game if you aren't ready to bash your head against the wall sometimes?
- Unique sense of style and flair
- Great set pieces that will stick with you for years
- Fun weapons make each combat encounter a blast
- Some may not love the back-and-forth puzzle design
- Can quickly become an audio nightmare
- Some aspects can feel slightly confusing at first
A copy of this game was provide by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PC/Steam Deck.