Monsters in your closet, the boogeyman under your bed, or bloody Mary standing right behind you in the mirror; imagine all of your childhood fears coming to life and being bigger, meaner, and scarier than you could have ever imagined. Welcome to Little Nightmares.
I knew from the first trailer I saw of Little Nightmares that it was going to be fantastic. Developer Tarsier Studios’ latest project lets you reconnect with your childhood through a creepy and whimsical oversized world where around every corner there could be something waiting to snatch you up. Fans of Limbo will absolutely love the rich world of spooks within and will likely find it to be a refreshing experience.
In Little Nightmares you play as Six, a girl trapped in this oversized world called The Maw. As Six, it’s your job to be resourceful and use the environment in clever ways in order to reach your goal while avoiding the monsters that lurk within. You start off not knowing quite what to expect; the first few minutes of the game are filled with painfully eerie silences and only glimpses at what’s to come. You’ll explore a few different “worlds”, including a prison area where The Maw hides all of its darkest secrets, a kitchen where one wrong step could mean that you become dinner, and the guest area where those coming to visit The Maw sit to gorge themselves on the feast that it offers. Each world is significantly different from the last, and every one is filled with new items, enemies, and puzzles to discover.
Little Nightmares greatest accomplishment, besides its fantastic setting, is its characters. They’re all incredibly diverse, yet fit perfectly into this dark and ominous world. The Janitor lingers in the prison of The Maw, and with his horrifyingly long arms he can reach high and far to find anyone that doesn’t belong; he doesn’t let his blindness get in the way of his job. The Twin Chefs are large bumbling creatures that have much better eyesight, so you really have to worry about where you step around them before they toss you in the oven. Even Six herself, with her bright yellow raincoat that brilliantly juxtaposes the dark world of The Maw, is a wonderfully interesting character that I loved discovering more about.
In terms of gameplay, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between Little Nightmares and the popular platformer Limbo. With your character you can climb, jump and run to traverse the environment around you. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to tell what objects are interactive, which means you may be poking around for a while until you come across a secret door to pull, or an item to throw at a big, frustratingly obvious button that you’ll probably miss for twenty minutes before noticing it, and eventually get through the level. The controls were a little wonky at times too, especially on mouse and keyboard – it’s certainly a game intended to be played with a controller. For example, the camera angle would sometimes suggest that I needed to move directly to the right or left but I actually needed to move diagonally, lest I wanted to fall or get captured. I also found myself getting stuck on a lot of invisible walls that, again, would send me to a premature death.
One part of Little Nightmares that blew me away, though, was its puzzles. While some involve running away from different monsters, others require you to think on your feet – sometimes both. There isn’t always enough time to assess the situation when you’re running from the horrors that live in The Maw, and you’ll be forced to act quickly and efficiently, jumping from one platform to the next, ducking behind tables, or hiding in an air duct to keep from getting captured or hurt.
Now I don’t know this for a fact, but I’d like to imagine that there’s an annual meeting that happens somewhere really secret, where everyone working in horror game development gets together to decide what’s still scary. If this is the case I really wish that they’d take some of the things in featured in Little Nightmares off the list. The meeting would probably go something like this:
“What do you think Gerald, are mannequins still in this year?”
“Oh yes – mannequins are always in, Bradley.”
“What about monsters with really long arms?”
“Is Slender still scary? The answer is d’uh, it stays on the list.”
In all seriousness, Little Nightmares does a fantastic job of pulling off “childish horror”. It strikes a good balance in introducing horror without ever being too scary; anyone who loves a little bit of the macabre without the intense dread of true terror will love this indie title. It is a bit on the short side, taking me only a little over four hours to beat – and that was with me getting stuck twice – but what it lacks in length in makes up for in brilliant content. If you enjoyed the likes of Limbo or Inside, you’ll be sure to fall in love with the world featured in Little Nightmares. With its brilliant setting, wonderfully whimsical characters and clever puzzles, it’s hard not to recommend it as yet another essential title from what’s shaping up to be an incredibly stellar year of gaming.