Horror games have always been something I’ve shied away from, but I’ve also been interested in the indie side of genre for quite some time. I figure that since October has rolled around I should dig into one such indie game: Little Nightmares. Developed by Tarsier Studios and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment, Little Nightmares is a 2.5D side-scrolling horror puzzle-platformer. It released in April of 2017 on PS4, XBox One and PC, with a Switch port having released in May of 2018. Will Little Nightmares be the game that wins me over to the horror genre? Will I actually be scared by this game, or will I just be frustrated and annoyed by cheap scares?
In Little Nightmares you control Six, a girl wearing a yellow raincoat who wakes up in the depths of a mysterious ship called The Maw after having a nightmare about a woman who looks like a geisha. Your objective is to make it out of The Maw in one piece while befriending small creatures called Nomes and avoiding literally everything else. It’s a simple setup, and you have a simple objective, but there’s a lot to take out of Little Nightmares as you play it. The MO of this game appears to be “show, don’t tell”, with the story being told in such a way that a lot of the major plot points are left up to the interpretation of the player. I think this gives off a feeling of uncertainty that adds to the already existing uncertainty that comes from the horror elements. I frequently found myself going from “Ohhh what’s gonna happen” to “What the f*** just happened?” as a result.
The first thing that struck me about Little Nightmares was how cool it looks. The art style used in this game is very reminiscent of Tim Burton’s work, with a high level of detail to boot. The designs of the major enemies in this game are disturbing in the best way; they’re creepy looking humans that leave you feeling unsettled while not going overboard. The environments are really cool too, with each different area of The Maw being designed in such a way that leaves you feeling small and powerless all throughout the experience. Also, expanding on the idea of “show, don’t tell”, the story is with zero dialogue or text. Everything is told through the actions of Six and the other guests aboard The Maw, which is something that’s rare in current video game storytelling. The audio design is also top notch, with ambient sounds and subtle music further creating that feeling of suspense and uncertainty. The environment and sound design work so well together, and I definitely was clenching especially towards the climax.
At its heart, Little Nightmares is a puzzle-platformer. The bulk of the game has you exploring The Maw with Six while solving puzzles in order to move forward, escape the guests of The Maw, and finding collectibles hidden throughout. Overall it’s a pretty straightforward and linear path, and the areas are quite fun and interesting to go through. Unfortunately, this is very much hurt by awkward controls and clunky movement. I don’t know if horror games are supposed to feel clunky to drive home that feeling of powerlessness, but the only thing that practice accomplishes is annoying me. It doesn’t hurt the experience to the point that I wanted to stop playing it, but it never felt great to play. This more or less means that the game is carried by the atmosphere created by the art design and audio design. Which would be great, right? Except the game is also painfully short. If you paid attention to my Progressive Looks series then you’ll notice that there was only a Part 0 posted prior to this review. That’s because I beat Little Nightmares in maybe 3 hours. I had such a good time exploring The Maw that it left me with the worst feeling of “What? That’s it?” I’ve had in a while. I wanted more out of this game and I didn’t get it (I’m aware of DLC, but I’m not counting that right now).
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Little Nightmares. I was able to get past the weird controls and clunky movement, and fell in love with the visual style and the environments. The game’s biggest sin however, is the total runtime. There really isn’t any extra content either outside of getting all of the collectibles and going for a deathless sub 1 hour run of the game for the achievements, and that won’t make me go back to it. I will say that this game has me interested in the horror genre now, and I’m no longer afraid to dip my feet in every once in a while, so in that respect Little Nightmares is a resounding success. I’m excited to dig into the DLC this game has to offer and I’ll be definitely keeping an eye on the sequel due out in 2020. In the end, I would say to definitely get this game if you see it on sale, but maybe think twice about getting it for full price.
I tentatively recommend Little Nightmares.
Total time played: 2 hours, 59 minutes.