Little Nightmares surprised me. Mostly because after playing Inside (Which I loved), I genuinely didn’t think another moody “cinematic platformer” could come close in terms of intrigue, world building and just being overwhelmingly creepy.
However, Little Nightmares is just that – although somewhat brief at a mere 5-ish hour runtime, it’s one of those games where I just couldn’t put the pad down. The art direction and world building on display is top-notch, and even after you’ve finished the game, it has a lingering aftertaste (And it’s an unpleasant one). The best way I could describe it is after playing, you feel like you need a shower to get the grease off you.
You play as Six, a tiny little girl in a monstrously giant world, full of twisted labyrinthine passages and rooms, populated by nightmarish adult characters with drooping melted faces or abnormally long limbs. And they do not like stow-aways, oh no. They will hunt for you throughout the games playtime – hearing a hiss of breath as they spot you, or a bloodcurdling scream of rage as you dart underfoot certainly gets the blood pumping.
Six is dressed in a bright yellow raincoat, peaked cap, standing starkly against the drab backdrops. All she carries is a Zippo, our only source of warmth, although Six is able to light candles and lamps along the way, beacons of light in the darkness (as well as handy checkpoints throughout). She’s wonderfully animated, her barefeet padding softly through the most nightmarish of areas – and those areas takes on many forms, from a childrens creché (complete with toy blocks and electric train sets) with a lonely dormitory attached, a greasy kitchen with two cooks who are best left undescribed, pounding unidentified meats with cleavers and hammers. What I found particularly engaging is as you make your way through the game, the areas feed into each other, and the whole operation begins to make sense as you realise what’s happening…and just where that meat might come from.
A puzzle game at heart, Little Nightmares doesn’t change much in terms of depth throughout, Six only gaining one new ability for the finale, which I won’t spoil. However, thanks to it’s short play time and high quality, the game does not outstay it’s welcome.
One game I was also reminded of while playing thought Little Nightmares was Little Big Planet, and was pleased to discover the game was actually designed by Tarsier, who worked on the franchise before striking out solo. The developer described the game as more “hide and seek” than stealth, and whilst you’ll certainly spend plenty of time hiding on top of bookcases or under kitchen cupboards, it’s an apt description.
The only real niggle I have aside from a lack of real puzzle variety is that the forced perspective occasionally makes it difficult to tell what you can grab and what you can’t (resulting in a small number of falls from high areas). But it’s a small gripe and most assuredly not one that should dissuade you from giving this game your attention.
Little Nightmares is a reminder that not all horror has to be based on jump scares and creatures hiding in the dark, nor is it a genre reserved for first person games. Sometimes, what you can see in the cold light of day is most terrifying of all, because it has nowhere to hide.