Monster Mania: The Family Friendly Horror of My Friendly Neighborhood
Monster Mania is a weekly column celebrating the unique and varied monster designs in horror gaming.
I need to clarify from the top; My Friendly Neighborhood is a game published by DreadXP. I write for DreadXP. DreadXP pays me money to write words. DreadXP does not tell me what to write. Clear? Great. Now let me tell you about one of the best survival horror games of the year that I, admittedly, forgot was releasing this summer.
In My Friendly Neighborhood, you play as a repairman named Gordon. Corporate overlords task Gordon with shutting off a transmitter still broadcasting the defunct children’s television show, The Friendly Neighborhood. Standing in Gordon’s way is a legion of sentient puppets wandering the studio, behaving strangely. And by strangely, I, of course, mean they have become violent in the absence of their handlers.
I lied; there is one more thing I need to clear up; My Friendly Neighborhood is not mascot horror. What is mascot horror? A trope in which you take animatronic or otherwise fluffy and (typically) lovable stuffed creatures and subvert their cuteness by giving them razor-sharp talons and teeth, typically smearing them with blood. Chuck E. Cheese’s finest they are not. I don’t have an issue with mascot horror and the likes of Five Nights at Freddy’s; those experiences aren’t for me. So I was concerned that My Friendly Neighborhood puppets would consist of ripped seams and cover in the bile of their latest victims.
A design element that, thankfully, developers John & Evan Szymanski subvert in favor of something narratively more meaningful and consistently unsettling throughout the game. Your introduction to the puppets is casual enough; Gordon is greeted by Ricky, a sock puppet who shepherds him along for major story beats. Ricky is the sanest among the puppets and attempts to find a middle ground between Gordon’s mission and whatever the intention behind the puppets’ actions is. Puppets whom Gordon will quickly become intimately familiar with.
While I (shockingly) have no background in puppetry, I feel confident that My Friendly Neighborhood’s puppets would make Jim Henson proud. Each of the standard puppets lacks the trapping we expect from mascot horror. Their designs stand on their own as colorful and varied in their body types and attire. The core puppets you’ll encounter, Norman, Lilliana, Junebug, Lenard, and George, may behave similarly but have entirely different appearances. And here’s the thing about My Friendly Neighborhood’s puppets; they actually resemble all age-friendly puppets.
Puppets such as the letterman jacket-wearing Norman, yellow triangle-headed Junebug, or yellow doorman attire-clad Lenard are examples of individuality that help to give My Friendly Neighborhood its, well, neighborly feel. You could give a plushy of any of these puppets to a kid, and they
A) Wouldn’t be scared shitless of it.
B) They resemble what you’d expect from a Sesame Street-style show.
Despite the puppet’s relatively “normal” looks, they display unsettling behavior. Gordon will come across puppets in a sleep-like state, hunched over and making a gurgling breathing sound, almost as if you can hear the inner workings of human anatomy. Puppets unaware of Gordon’s presence will utter disturbing things to themselves, such as Junebug lamenting the time she “threw [her] to the ground and stomped on her face” during an argument.
Standard conflict resolution type tips.
Rather than an assembly line feel to puppets, there is a noticeable variety across these recurring standard puppets and additional puppets the further into the studios Gordon explores. There’s Pearl the Bird, a gigantic pink puppet (a homage to you know who) who mindlessly stumbles around the set. Ray – a grumpy handyman condemned to the sewers of the station given his temper (and knack for banging things with a wrench until they’re fixed). Hand puppets that leap from walls and knock Gordon over. Goblette, a bulbous green toad with seasoning shakers for fingers, charges after Gordon. And a few more that are worth expecting for the first time on your own. Just know that what you see in My Friendly Neighborhood screenshots is not the end all be all of the types of puppets the game has in store.
What also separates the approach to puppets here is the explanation for their behavior. I’m not going to say there must always be an ironclad reason for killer puppets doing what they’re doing; that’d be insane. However, it is refreshing to learn the backstory of why the puppets are doing the things they are for a reason other than a curse or being possessed by a reincarnated serial killer’s soul or a trope along those lines. Providing more significance to the puppets and the game’s setting gives My Friendly Neighborhood’s world a more exciting foundation that reflects its colorful cast of charac…Puppets.
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