Little Nightmares is a puzzle-platformer horror adventure game released for PS4, Xbox One & PC on April 28th, 2017. It was developed by Tariser Studios (@TarsierStudios) and it was published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. Screenshots taken by myself.
It was impossible for me to play Little Nightmares without constantly thinking back to my favourite game of 2016: INSIDE. They’re both side scrolling, puzzle-platforming games that rely heavily on environmental storytelling as there’s no dialogue or written word in either. They both have uniquely eerie settings which make them unlike anything else I’ve played, but that’s where the similarities end. A visually compelling, distinct and grossly beautiful world make Little Nightmare a memorable experience, despite its lacklustre gameplay.
Enter the Maw
Little Nightmares takes place in the depths of the ocean aboard the Maw, a vessel home to a cast of nightmarish characters, but the scariest character is the Maw itself. The vessel feels alive, and in certain sections of the game, it actually is. The various rooms all felt unique but the same creepy and unsettling atmosphere flowed throughout.
The levels range from the cellars to the library to the kitchen to the quarters of the evil woman in charge of it all. This was my favourite section of the game, heavily inspired by Japanese architecture this level had shadows eerily dance across the paper walls, creaking fusumas and a dining hall that struck me like a twisted version of Spirited Away’s famous guest house scenes.
The flow through these levels worked brilliantly for me, working my way up the Maw to the surface gave me a sense of purpose that motivated me to wrestle with the game’s sometimes unwieldy controls and try again when a misplaced jump to my death felt unfair. And that brings us to Little Nightmares’ weak point: the gameplay.
Exit the Control
As I mentioned earlier, the similarities between INSIDE and this game end with the gameplay. Where INSIDE was a joy to play, and every detail of the boy’s movement was subtle yet deliberate, Little Nightmares controls a little like an unwieldy toddler. There were moments where I needed to make a precise movement, like pulling a drawer open or swinging across a rope, but I had to fiddle around with the controls before I actually grabbed onto what I needed. There were countless times where I would jump into the abyss because the climbing was unclearly presented.
Where gameplay falters Little Nightmares’ incredible score and sound effects knock it out of the park. The noises all the monsters make shook me at parts, causing me to sprint out of whatever room I was in and hide out of genuine fear. The parts of the game where Six, the game’s protagonist, is alone wandering the empty halls were accentuated by a phenomenal soundtrack of clashing notes and discouraging riffs build the tension from room to room.
I rarely got to a section where I wasn’t paying attention to the incredible music and the sound effects, which in a game without any dialogue is all the more important. The impact of each enemy screech adds to the heartbeat pulse that I could feel in my Xbox One controller, one of the most effective uses of controller rumble I’ve ever encountered.
Inaccurate controls hardly took away from my enjoyment of Little Nightmares’ world and characters, but it’s absolutely worth noting if you are someone who plays games for precision platforming. Little Nightmares is far from precise, at least in its gameplay. But in every other aspect, it nails its goal of being an immersive, thought-provoking story that delves into the depths of unsettling situations.