Little Nightmares Review: A Perfectly Creepy Platformer
I want to start this review by saying that I don't normally play games that scare me. It's not that I'm a "chicken". I don't find enjoyment in playing games that are meant to scare. But there was something about Little Nightmares that made me want to give it a go. I'm really glad I did because I wasn't disappointed!
Little Nightmares is a dark, creepy platform puzzler from Swedish developers Tarsier Studios and has been published by Bandai Namco. You must guide a little girl called Six through a massive mysterious vessel called The Maw. You are small enough to hide in tiny places and scurry through pipes and under floor boards and you really have to because there are other beings onboard who want you for a despicable purpose.
The first thing that struck me about the game is that it is very quiet. Aside from the constant sound of water dripping or hitting the side of the vessel, there is no real musical soundtrack. You can hear soft breathing, Six's heart beating, clangs and clunks of metal, and furniture hitting things as the vessel sways with the waves outside and that was enough to bring out the jumps in me! It creates something very atmospheric and even the simplest of loud noise comes as a surprise to the player (even more so if you play with headphones on).
Aside from the eerie noises, the artwork does a heck of a lot to amplify the creepy atmosphere. Imagine a giant dollhouse which has its doors open and each room is on display. Each room has its own feel and has been crafted in such a way that it emphasizes the fact that you are a very small girl in a very large and horrid nightmare. From having to stand on a suitcase to flick a switch or creating steps out of a large filing cabinet, you need to find a way to overcome the giant obstacles.
Controlling Six, for the most part, is okay but sometimes it can be a bit clunky. This becomes apparent when you have to drag things across a room. The movement isn't as fluid or precise as I would have liked. You have no superpowers or weapons to control, so the controls are pretty basic. Other than movement, the only thing you have at your disposal is a little cigarette lighter which you use to light gas lamps (these function as checkpoints) and to shed some light on darker rooms or crawl spaces.
As you have no weapons or ways of protecting yourself, you have to rely on your own reactions and grasp of the controls. You just have to make sure that things don't touch you, see you, smell you etc. and utilize aspects of your surroundings to prevent this.
It takes a while before you can get any kind of clue of what is going on onboard The Maw, and the storyline is a bit lacking until you get closer to the end of the game. Why is Six there? What was supposed to happen to her? What really goes down in The Maw? Given that the game is rather short, approx. 4 - 5 hours, it does leave you wanting more. More story and more explanation. To be honest, I really hope that they have a sequel or even a prequel in the works. I'd love to ultimately know why Six has ended up in this situation or where the other inhabitants of The Maw have come from.
Little Nightmares comes at a time when horror and "jumpscare" games are very popular but it takes the horror aspect down a few notches to make the game very accessible while still getting the scares in. Instead of outwardly disturbing themes, developers opted for "cuter" antagonists to soften their sinister actions. For example, the blind janitor who sniffs you out and grabs you with his long gangly arms doesn't look overly disturbing but when you see the things he does further down the line... well... I don't want to spoil it for you!
So, to conclude, the game is good. In fact, it is very good. The puzzles are at a great level of difficulty that would cater to anyone wanting to play. The setting, the artwork and the soundtrack all come together to form a game that is disturbing yet cute, creepy and amusing. As I have already said, the game in its current state is possibly a bit short for many people but there is plenty of scope to expand, and I really hope that Tarsier Studios are already considering it.
Little Nightmares is available digitally, on PC, XBox One and PS4 but there is also a physical "Six" edition which not only includes the game on DVD but also a 10cm figure of Six, a cage themed box, A3 poster, sticker board and the original soundtrack composed by Tobias Lilja.
Note: A review copy of the game was provided for free by Bandai Namco.