This hypnotic rhythm game is the perfect ‘chill-out’ experience

When I sit down to play a game, I don’t always want a loud or challenging experience. Sometimes I just want to chill out. I’ll often sit on the couch before going to bed and unwind with something low-stakes, so I value any truly laid-back experiences that put me in a trance. In that case, is it any surprise that I’d vibe with a game called Melatonin?

The new indie release is a short, but sweet rhythm game about a restless dreamer. Its striking visual style immediately caught my attention when I first saw it, but its streamlined gameplay wound up winning my heart. If you’re looking for a video game equivalent of “lo-fi beats to study and relax to,” Melatonin is an end-of-year hidden gem worthy of some head-bobbing.

Go to sleep

Melatonin takes place entirely within dreams. Simple narrative interludes show a character struggling to get a good night’s sleep over the course of five nights (perhaps because they’re trying to crash on a couch covered in Monster energy cans). Each night, their dreams manifest as a short collection of themed musical levels. A dream about technology becomes a light gun minigame where players need to blast aliens and robots on beat, for instance. The final challenge every night smashes all of those sequences together into one compilation.

Each level is short, revolving around a simple visual motif and button-timing pattern. One level has me swiping through Tinder profiles with my arrow keys, while another simply has me hitting my spacebar in time with a hypnotist’s stopwatch swinging by a giant eye. Its closest design parallel is WarioWare or Rhythm Heaven, as it takes a microgame approach. If you love that game’s iconic wrestling interview, you’ll likely dig Melatonin too.

A phone user looks at a dating app profile with a poop emoji for a photo in Melatonin.

The experience entirely hinges on good vibes and it has no trouble delivering those. That starts with its simple controls, which usually revolve around one or two buttons that have to be pressed or held on beat. It’s a game that can almost entirely be played with one hand, leaving me to sit back in a comfortable slump while playing. A practice mode appears before each game explaining the exact patterns, but the standard on-screen prompts disappear once the real thing begins. I worried that might get confusing at first, but I found it easy to pick up and master each game without strain.

That ease of play is directly tied to its lovely aesthetic, both in terms of visuals and audio. The entire game sports a cool-colored palette that makes everything feel as soft as a wool blanket. Levels play out in cartoon animation cycles that are easy to read even without explicit beat markers. A personal favorite has me using the left and right arrow keys to fill in spreadsheets as I dream about my day job. I could have skipped the tutorial entirely and still known exactly which arrows to press and when thanks to clean and clear illustrations.

An office worker fills in spreadsheets in Melatonin.

Of course, any rhythm game lives and dies by its soundtrack, and Melatonin delivers there. It features a selection of light electronic instrumentals that perfectly incorporate sound effects as audio cues. In one level that has me burning Polaroid photographs by holding the spacebar as they pass by, the gentle flick of my lighter becomes an important instrument in its low-key beat. In a lot of levels, you could close your eyes and play by sound alone, which makes it a more potentially inclusive experience for blind or visually impaired players.

Melatonin is a short experience, one that I cleared in around 90 minutes. Hard mode and an editor tool add some extra reasons to keep playing, but I appreciate the brevity here. Its quick levels are a perfect nightcap for anyone who wants to wind down to something soft and sweet before bed.

Melatonin launches on December 15 for PC.

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