Neverending Nightmares is a pretty good experience and a pretty poor game. It has a fantastic black and white sketch book art style with painted blood red accents. A haunting, yet simple, soundtrack accompanied by the loud footsteps and short breaths of the main character Thomas. And enemies. The biggest problem is that the game has enemies.
Nightmares lives and dies by its own atmosphere. If anything in the game does something to shatter your immersion then it becomes really hard to recover from that point on. So the enemies, by their very nature of being an obstacle to the player, can easily cause this problem. If they kill you, you die, and stop making progress.
Now to be fair to the game it does try to have an in universe way of explaining away the issue. When Thomas “dies” he wakes up in the last bed he passed by, and can continue on from there. In the game’s universe he is in fact living a never ending nightmare. This really is much better than a simple retry/quit menu screen popping up but it’s not perfect. Since the enemies can kill you in a single hit and don’t ever go away it’s very possible for the wall of immersion to come crumbling down as your frustration mounts. The more times you die and wake up in the same exact place and have to figure out the same monster puzzle the more of a “game” it becomes.
There’s a distinct turning point where you come to realize that you’re not playing as Thomas trying to escape his living hell; you’re the player trying to get past an enemy so you can advance the plot. At some point the enemies become less scary and more of a barrier that at best distracts you from soaking in the environment and at worst stops you from seeing anything new and engaging.
There are ways the game could have used challenge instead however. A simple non-combat puzzle to break up the monotony of walking around, maybe some creatures locked behind walls or simply unaware or uncaring of Thomas’ presence. It could still have it’s moments like when Thomas tears a vein out of his arm with a bloody shriek, and in fact it would benefit from moments like that being the only source of violence in the game. With the ability to die repeatedly in a bloody mess comes the desensitization to all the blood and gore.
Neverending Nightmares is at its best when you’re slowly walking through a series of small rooms and long hallways. There’s nothing to hear except the sound of your own feet and maybe a distant scream. It’s terror as its best. Everything is wrong and yet there’s actually nothing there capable of harming you. It’s just you and your imagination running wild through every haunted house, hospital, and forest.