Little Nightmares Review
As a concept, Little Nightmares is delicious. A trip into a world where all of your childhood fears are manifest. Shadows hide imaginary demons that would creep across your skin to steal your soul, and the darkness masks creatures that you can hear but not see. This is a world that is deliberately oppressive and attempts to keep you on edge for its entirety, asking you to delve into the depths and come out unscathed.
In practice, Tarsier Studios platform-puzzle-adventure-game mostly succeeds. It’s nothing ground breaking or new, but that’s only because games like Inside and Limbo have come before it, and, let’s face it, to be listed in among that duo of games is nothing to be sniffed at. But that’s what we have here: this is a platform game with physics based puzzles and and overarching narrative that is rarely explicit as to what’s going on, but veers towards horror.
It sounds like I’m being negative by saying you’ve seen most of what Little Nightmares has to offer, but that’s not the case. It’s unfair, perhaps, and definitely unfortunate that a game like Inside was released before it, because, regardless of how fair it is, the impact here is lessened if you’ve played that game.
Strange as it may seem to say this about an aesthetic designed to instill terror and anxiety, but this is a beautiful looking game. Sometimes it’s a little too dark, but that’s by design: you aren’t supposed to be able to see everything. This plays out well from a visual standpoint, but it does mean you’ll get some frustrating deaths and sometimes just not be able to see items that could, in another game, be made more obvious. Forging onward into the bleak, deadly world, you’ll almost certainly fall to your death, or get eaten alive by some godforsaken creature – you get the idea. But it’s rarely unfair, and these deaths (frustrating as they might be) are often due to carelessness or rushing from your fears into the light.
Where Little Nightmares differs from its genre forebears is the ability to fully go in and out of the screen, similarly to LittleBigPlanet the world is presented in a side scrolling form with verticality, but you also have a 3D plane to move within. This allows for a deeper game, and means that if you are being chased (and you will be), you actually have some chance of survival. Sometimes the 3D plane will cause upset, because in tandem with the darkness it means you will fall to your death, but it can be forgiven when you’re given a more whole feeling world to explore.
Speaking of being chased, there are bad guys in this game, and they are one of the main problems. Without drawing further comparisons to games I’ve already mentioned, there are “big bads” that are ever-present for sections on end. The trouble is that they’re marginally less fun than just exploring, finding hidden trinkets, and completing the puzzles. Your mileage may vary, but I found things were at their most scary when stuck in the dark, using only your lighter to create a brief respite from the gloom. These large enemies are clearly supposed to instill dread, and creeping past them, or manipulating the environment to get them out of your path is designed to make you clench the controller harder than ever, beads of sweat forming on your forehead. But for the most part they don’t. Larger than life, gruesome, and well-designed they may be, but it’s not until fairly late on that I actually felt afraid. The final two levels of the five on offer were my favourite, and in that respect it’s nice to see a game that’s not front loaded with the best bits.
The biggest issue is that of story, or the lack thereof. I’m all for allowing the player to interpret things, and I’m even happy with throwaway Hollywood blockbusters that swap sensitivity for explosions, but I would like some thread to cling to. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that there’s not enough of it, and leaving every gap unfilled is a little much. The closing sequences come at you pretty quickly and attempt to tie a neat bow on the top, but really, some detail throughout would be nice, and without meaning to sound overly harsh, the resolution isn’t that great.
But when you’re running from grotesque monsters that dwarf your stature while the music swells, sneaking past a slumbering enemy to find a key, or wading through a sea of shoes in the basement, Little Nightmares is an enjoyable, but short ride. If you like these artistically pleasing platform puzzlers, then this is going to be something you’ll enjoy. It’s not very challenging, and it has a few issues that will frustrate, but this is a fine one-and-done game, and for the price, it’s well worth investigating.
Gorgeous art direction
Superb sound design
Enjoyable to control
The scares come quite late
A bit too much stealth
Story is lacking