Garage: Bad Dream Adventure was almost lost media. When it originally came out, it had an infamously low print run and when compounded with it being a Japanese exclusive; it’s no surprise it was destined for obscurity. This was no ordinary adventure game; it’s made of the stuff nightmares are made out of.
What was it that makes Garage: Bad Dream Adventure a true work of art? It was spearheaded by actual surrealist artist, Sakuba Tomomi – and worked with the long defunct developer; KINOTROPE. They worked together to fully realized Tomomi’s vision which was based off his actual nightmares.
After decades of effectively being lost media and existing only as a fever dream in the memories of those who experienced it; a copy showed up on an online auction. After several users banded together to raise the funds of a few thousand dollars, they saved this work of from being lost forever. Was this game meant for this Earth? Or does it belong in the pit of man’s fears? Read on in Niche Gamer’s Garage: Bad Dream Adventure review.
Garage: Bad Dream Adventure
Publisher: Sakuba Metal Works
Platforms: Windows PC, Android, iOS (reviewed)
Release Date: April 20, 2004 (PC), December 10, 2021
Price: $4.99 USD
After a very technical legal negotiation on rights and permission to port Garage: Bad Dream Adventure to mobile; it can finally be played and enjoyed by the masses. What used to be an extremely elusive and esoteric, avant garde freakshow can now be purchased for a measly $4.99 and be played on the most commonly used device in the world.
The choice to port something like Garage: Bad Dream Adventure, to a small mobile device with a touch screen may have been a gross miscalculation. This is a one of a kind, visual and audio tour-de-force – playing it on a minuscule six inch screen does not do it justice.
Garage: Bad Dream Adventure is meant to be an engrossing and highly immersive experience. It is so hard to truly appreciate the work that went into this game when it’s displayed on a tiny screen it was never meant to be seen on. Having to touch around on the screen also removes the player from being more immersed when their hand inevitably has to come in frame and block out imagery.
Garage: Bad Dream Adventure is a kind of title that perfectly describes what the game itself offers. The nightmare begins with the player character fumbling in the dark and turning on a light, only to look upon the pitiful form they have come to inhabit. From the very start, Garage: Bad Dream Adventure is set to make players feel uncomfortable.
The player-character is a inhuman mixture of a raggedy automaton and some kind of fetal looking homunculi that almost is fish-like. It has a permanent, wall-eyed expression and looks like it is in a constant state of suffering and despair. His whole world is Garage and the tracks that run along within it, which he is attached to as well.
This is the world of Garage. It is a run down, filthy, and grimy industrial shanty town that is barely held together by tracks, rickety scaffolding and a lot of rust. Everything in this place looks like it would give you a disease if you hung around and breathed the air long enough. It is the kind of ambiance where the smell is palpable.
The main character is on the verge of complete and total self-destruction as the game begins. This little guy is low on fuel; leads to a game over if it runs out, and his ego (sense of self) is almost nothing. Both are represented by in-game gauges and keeping these full are a major pillar to Garage: Bad Dream Adventure‘s gameplay.
First timers playing will probably aimlessly wander around Garage, panicking and not knowing what to do before they either run out of fuel or succumb to a vague existential mental-death. This makes the mood unsettling and stressful, but taking ones time and carefully paying attention will guide the player down the right path.
Life in Garage revolves around fishing for crabs and feeding them to the lady robots who will produce fuel in the most psycho-sexual way imaginable. The entire game is steeped in visceral and subliminal sexual imagery and cross references it with death on a few occasions. Trying to survive in this environment feels futile and is literally someone’s bad dream… but who’s?
After figuring out how to catch crabs with a fishing mini-game and understanding that ego can be restored at a clinic or by listening to music; the protagonist can gradually progress through the mystery. Garage: Bad Dream Adventure is like trying to maintain your own life-support while also trying to figure out a Monkey Island puzzle, but the puzzle is also a nightmare.
Tomomi and the boys at KINOTROPE kept everything very vague and illusory. While developing our Garage: Bad Dream Adventure review; there was no way to explain the course of events in any traditional sense. There are NPCs who say things which seem like they may have double or even triple meanings and it’s never clear what some things are meant to represent.
Solving adventure game style puzzles is one thing. Realizing that everyone in Garage has basically had their body removed and the player is the only one pure enough to reconnect with their physical body is a new level of strange.
After a while, Garage doesn’t seem so bad. Everyone living there is not a horrible monster despite their disturbing appearances. Most of the time, they are just trying to get by like regular people and they even lend a helping hand once in a while.
The confusing layout of Garage and trying to understand the map is overwhelming at first. Soon enough, it also begins to make sense and the place becomes almost welcoming and homey. The grotesque and putrid ambiance just becomes regular business as players will get immersed in the setting.
This is seemingly the point of Garage: Bad Dream Adventure. It does have two possible endings and one of which involves staying in Garage for a post game scenario to enjoy more fishing. Any game with a fishing mini-game can’t be all bad. Thankfully, this happens to be very well designed and the improvements added to this mobile port have made things smoother.
Since hardly anyone has played the original release of Garage: Bad Dream Adventure, there is little to no frame of reference to base these improvements on. It can be assumed that since it was a very late 90s release, it was likely originally 4:3 aspect ratio and probably low resolution.
This mobile port is using the standard modern 16:9 framing and smartly uses newly designed UI elements to fill out the black pillar boxes on the sides. There is now easy access to all key-items, fishing baits, or lures and a handy log reference to key track of dialogue.
Garage: Bad Dream Adventure does noticeably lean on items and inventory a bit more than the average adventure game; even by late 90s standards. The revamped inventory system is well designed and easy to navigate, though without any frame of reference to go off of; there is little to be gleaned.
Other features like some restored content are unknown and can’t be identified for this Garage: Bad Dream Adventure review. This port is the only version in English and while it does seem like it probably honors the author’s intent; there is no way of knowing how close it is to the original which is already extremely elusive.
One feature that is apparent that has been improved are the visuals. The original had 240p resolution pre-renders for all of its imagery. It was instrumental to giving Garage its grungy and diseased, scummy aesthetic. The roughness did add to its ambiance and made the environment feel dirtier.
Naturally, 240p resolution would never be accepted by modern standards. For Garage: Bad Dream Adventure on mobile, the developers used some kind of AI to reinterpret the original pre-rendered assets. Thankfully, the effect is tastefully applied and the results make the graphics look very sharp and defined.
The nightmare is in HD and resembles key-art that probably would have been used in some 90s video game magazine ad. Every edge is cleanly defined and is crisp as a clear spring morning. Great care was put into ensuring Tomomi’s vision.
The only disappointing visual is that the protagonist has a very few angles that he can be viewed from. Normally the little guy looks fine as he chugs along on the tracks like a depressing little choo-choo that could. However, some pre-rendered backgrounds require him to be at specific angles that he was never intended to have.
The result is the protagonist not aligning properly with his perspective on the background. He already sticks out due to the pre-rendered nature of the art style in HD, but it is too bad that the developers of this version couldn’t do anything to address this. It was a distraction in 1999 and it is still a distraction, more that 20 years later.
Despite this minor nit-pick, Garage: Bad Dream Adventure looks amazing. This is one of those kinds of stylish video games that have a distinct art direction that manages to keep it evergreen. It takes on a timeless look that will keep it looking striking, long after everyone reading this is dust.
The visuals alone are not enough to draw the gamer in. Garage: Bad Dream Adventure also has a very intense soundscape. Every little mechanism in Garage and the characters that populate it, emit unsettling and weirdly organic sounds. It mixes uncomfortably with machinery groans and industrial sounds.
What little music there is in Garage: Bad Dream Adventure is very important. Some music is diegetic and in the world of Garage, music is an important means to restore ego. The scant pieces heard can come from a music box, which sounds like its on its last legs; barely hanging on.
Garage: Bad Dream Adventure is a very special and creative adventure game that was made for adults. It depicts some very uncomfortable imagery and explores some very abstract concepts that make more sense to anyone who may be spiritual.
While the gameplay is more free-form than the average point-and-click style adventure game and implements some survival mechanics and fishing; this is not something for everyone. It is easy for average gamers to have a bad experience the first time they play Garage: Bad Dream Adventure.
Compounded with the typical key item hunting and obtuse puzzles; Garage: Bad Dream Adventure is an acquired taste. The only thing holding it back is the terrible platform to play it on. Garage: Bad Dream Adventure would be much more enjoyable on a PC or a real console, where players can experience the dream with a large screen.
Garage: Bad Dream Adventure was reviewed on iPhone 7 using a copy purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. For those interesting in picking up this no longer ultra-rare game, Garage: Bad Dream Adventure is now available on iOS (via the App Store) and Android (via the Google Play Store).