GARAGE: Bad Dream Adventure Was a Surreal Nightmare Almost Lost to Time

GARAGE: Bad Dream Adventure

“Is there anything you feel uneasy about?” begins GARAGE: Bad Dream Adventure. “It will be alright. Please trust Garage. You are certain to find whatever it is you desire.”

And with those strange words of reassurance, you’re briefly plunged into darkness.

As its title might imply, GARAGE: Bad Dream Adventure is an adventure game that thrusts you in a nightmarish scenario. You are a strange, alien-like creature with an oversized head and the body of a machine. You were discovered floating in wastewater. A note left behind tells you that this horrible and sinister world isn’t the true world, and that looking for your shadow can help set you on the path toward escape.

GARAGE: Bad Dream Adventure

GARAGE is a strange, unsettling game that can occasionally be frightening. The music is droning and ominous, making you feel like something terrible is on the horizon even when there are no dangers in sight. The creatures you interact with are mostly kind and helpful, but they’re also grotesque, looking at though they were thrown together from whatever parts their creator happened to have lying around.

Released in 1999, GARAGE is the first and only game from artist Tomomi Sakuba. Sakuba, who had always had a penchant for the surreal, became fascinated with video games after playing another adventure title, Cosmic Osmo and the Worlds Beyond the Mackerel. Sakuba discovered that Cosmic Osmo had been made with HyperCard, an application and development kit that had been packaged for free with Macintosh computers sold in the 80s. Using books from the library, Sakuba began studying the language so that he could make a game of his own.

GARAGE features the same mechanics you’d find in your average 90s adventure game. There are plenty of fetch quests, obtuse puzzles to solve, and a whole lot of backtracking. What makes GARAGE stand out from other games of its time is its execution. When you roll down hallways, there’s a strange thumping sound that almost sounds like someone knocking at your door. Your character has a psyche meter that needs to be managed carefully. If your psych meter drops too low, no one will be able to understand you, which means you won’t get any clues about what you should do next.

GARAGE: Bad Dream Adventure

Since GARAGE is a game unlike any other, it seems fitting that it’s also incredibly rare. The publisher for the game, Toshiba-EMI, withdrew after just 3,000 copies of the game had been printed. Sakuba sold an additional 90 copies of the game through his website in April of 2004, but the copies sold out in a single day.

With only a few thousand copies in circulation, GARAGE wasn’t just an obscure game. It was virtually impossible to access. While players across the world hunted for years, no one could seem to find a copy of the game. That changed in early 2014, when someone listed the title on Yahoo Auctions Japan. After a fierce bidding war, user cc0 purchased the game for 77,000 yen (approximately $770 USD).

Because cc0 was based in Australia, there were concerns that the game would be seized at customs, meaning that GARAGE would once again be lost. The game wound up being shipped to another message board user in the United States, who sent the package to Australia after it arrived. The game was ripped and shared on My Abandonware, leaving it playable at last, albeit in Japanese.

GARAGE: Bad Dream Adventure

Unfortunately, an official digital release doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards. Sakuba has stated that he no longer owns the rights to the title, and that he would be reluctant to re-release it even if he did. “GARAGE is a reckless game,” said Sakuba on Twitter. “Game balance has changed, and I don’t think GARAGE is good as is.”

But even by modern standards, there’s something special about GARAGE. The dated visuals help you to feel like you’re trapped in a world where nothing is as it should be. The use of sound feels masterful, from the strange gurgling noises you occasionally hear in the background to the complete silence you experience when talking to shopkeepers. The game is weird, but the plot is solid, and the ending is surprisingly satisfying.

GARAGE: Bad Dream Adventure

GARAGE isn’t a game for everyone, even those with a high tolerance for point-and-click tedium. At times, it can be strangely charming, but it can also be aggressively unpleasant, like when you see two creatures that appear to be mating. There are never any jump scares, but it’s hard to play without feeling anxious. Some plot points may leave you feeling deeply uncomfortable.

Still, if you’re willing to tolerate that — and if you want to play a game that’s unlike anything else — GARAGE will help you find exactly what your heart desires.

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