Review for My Friendly Neighborhood
As a child, I watched a lot of Sesame Street. The city-inspired sets and catchy songs were a source of early morning comfort for me. My Friendly Neighborhood turns that feeling of comfortable nostalgia on its head by throwing Jim Henson-style puppets at you who will quite literally hug you to death. It could be a cheesy setup, but it works surprisingly well — so well, in fact, that I enjoyed every minute of my adventure through the game’s old-school studio sets.
You play as Gordon O’Brian, a handyman who’s sent to MFN Studios to fix an issue with the broadcasting antenna. My Friendly Neighborhood, the show, has long been canceled, but somehow old episodes are being broadcast in place of talk shows and the news. Access to the roof is blocked by a sticky elevator, so Gordon is forced to find another route, marking the beginning of a long, roundabout journey through the studio lot and surrounding buildings.
My Friendly Neighborhood plays like an old-school survival horror game. It’s Resident Evil with chattering Muppets instead of groaning zombies. You can subdue the puppets with a few hits of a wrench or a couple of shots with your cleverly designed firearms, but they won’t stay down for long. You’ll find duct tape scattered around, which will prevent puppets from getting back up, but resources are limited and you’ll be forced to decide which puppets are worth taping up and which can be dealt with or avoided.
Puzzles are interspersed with combat, and they offer just the right amount of challenge. Backtracking and inventory management, two more survival horror staples, can be found here as well. Rest assured, you’ll be looking for differently shaped keys as you go along and revisiting locked doors you passed up. The environments are so creatively designed and engaging that I found myself looking forward to revisiting old areas, much in the same way I enjoyed traversing Resident Evil’s Spencer Mansion. It’s hard not to keep bringing up Resident Evil because the developers, John and Evan Szymanski, were obviously inspired by it, but at the same time the experience of My Friendly Neighborhood is wholly original and contained in its own thoughtfully crafted world. It’s a love letter to survival horror and childhood nostalgia created by fans of both. At least, that’s how it seems.
The horror is more Monster House and less Friday the 13th, but the chattering puppets are genuinely unsettling at times, and jump scares are used sparingly but effectively. It’s really more about the atmosphere. When I was a kid, I loved stuff like Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark as much as I loved Jim Henson’s creations. My Friendly Neighborhood feels like a mashup of those two worlds. It embraces both and succeeds at creating an entirely self-contained world full of surprises.
That world has its own history as well. As you progress, you’ll find various newspaper articles that detail not only the rise and fall of MFN Studios but also the troubles of the wider world. My Friendly Neighborhood doesn’t shy away from seriousness, despite its initial goofy setup. You’ll learn of a war that the world is still reeling from and how it affects the media that people consume. War tends to change attitudes and outlooks, and the fictional world of My Friendly Neighborhood is no exception. I was surprised to find this story-within-the-story, but it didn’t feel out of place and went a long way toward fleshing out the plot and characters.
The soundtrack is a real standout, with jazzy numbers that are a delight to listen to as you explore. The all-important safe room music is present too, a soothing mix that manages to evoke old survival horror games while keeping in theme with the rest of the game’s music. The tempo rises and recedes at the appropriate moments, becoming frantic during boss fights and slowing down during lighter moments. I even found myself sitting at the main menu for an extended period of time just listening to the music that plays there.
My only real complaint is that items were sometimes hard to find. Helpfully, the maps show you when you’ve cleared a room, but I spent so much extra time scouring a room to finally spot one tiny coin or a pistol magazine! I also failed to uncover a crucial story element early on because I passed over an item and had to spend quite a lot of time backtracking to see what I’d missed. It would be nice if items, particularly quest items, were a bit easier to spot; but honestly, this feels like nitpicking.
It’s simply hard to find anything wrong with My Friendly Neighborhood. The whole experience is so charming and genuinely fun that I found myself wishing its runtime was doubled. I clocked about six hours total, and I could have easily played another six or more. Luckily, it does have replay value with plenty of unlockable modes, extra difficulty levels, and incentive to try to get the true ending if you missed it the first time around. My Friendly Neighborhood is a world I plan to keep delving into, and I can’t recommend it enough.