It makes a lot of sense that Pokémon Sleep is a simple game — it’s something that you play in part by sleeping, after all. There’s only so much complexity you can embed in an experience where players aren’t conscious much of the time. Even still, after spending most of the past week with the gamified sleep tracking app tucked under my pillow, I can’t help but wish there were something more beyond looking at dozing Eevees and feeding berries to a Snorlax. It’s neither encouraging me to sleep more nor giving me much to do. It’s a bit of a snooze.
The premise in Pokémon Sleep, as with pretty much every other game in the series, is centered on research. Early on, you’ll meet a charmingly rumpled professor named Neroli who is researching pokémon sleep habits. Apparently, this involves a big snoozing Snorlax at a campsite who will encourage other pokémon to appear and also doze off. The goal is to see as many different sleeping monsters as possible; you have a pokédex to fill out as always, only this time, it’s filled with sleeping positions.
In practice, it works like this: the primary way you “play” Pokémon Sleep is by putting your phone face down under or beside your pillow so that the app can track your sleep (which includes recording any loud noises, though this can be turned off) and award you points based on how close you get to the ideal 8.5 hours a night. The game is surprisingly nonjudgmental; it simply shows you how long you slept and gives you points but doesn’t do much else to encourage you to do better. Last night, I stayed up late watching soccer and did not have to face a disappointed Pikachu in the morning.
The most joyous part of the experience is when you wake up in the morning. After getting a rundown of how long you slept and what kind of sleep you had (which includes a list of all the recordings the app made, files that the developers say will be deleted after 24 hours), you get to see a bunch of pokémon that have come to your campsite for a nap. You might spot a Houndour curled up in a ball or see a pile of stones covering a sleeping Diglett. There are cookies you can feed these little guys, and if you give them enough, they’ll become your friend, which means they’ll join your team and hang around even when they aren’t sleeping.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Pokémon Sleep is incredibly cute. The visuals are the most notable thing about the game. The soft, storybook-like 2D art is very charming, especially when you see the many creative forms of sleep these pokémon get up to, like Squirtle tucked away in its shell or Cubone nodding off while still standing. Little clips of these sleep styles are filed away in your pokédex, and they are just adorable.
But the rest of the experience isn’t very interesting. During the day, you can still play by periodically checking in on your pokémon, who will gather berries that you can feed to Snorlax, leveling it up over time. But that’s about it. Worse still, the game really feels hindered by its paid elements. For instance, the cookies you use to befriend pokémon are mostly paid for; you only get a single free one per day. Instead, you have to use a premium currency called diamonds to buy more cookies — as well as things like incense to attract more creatures or a larger box for holding pokémon — and the game gives it out sparingly. There’s even a “premium pass” that gives you a bunch of useful benefits if you buy it.
These elements are common in free-to-play games, but here, they feel particularly out of place given how straightforward Pokémon Sleep is at its core. Really, I should just be trying to get a solid night of sleep so I can see what cuties await me in the morning. Instead, I’m futzing around with a needlessly confusing list of premium currency and items and storage space to hold it all in.
I really want to enjoy Pokémon Sleep, as it features my two favorite hobbies. But it doesn’t improve either: after a few days, I’m not finding myself encouraged to improve my sleeping habits, nor is the busywork required to get new pokémon all that fun. There’s just not a lot to it, and cute visuals can only take a game so far.