Little Nightmares AVAILABLE ON: Xbox One, PS4, PC
DEVELOPER: Tarsier Studios
PUBLISHER: Bandai Namco
RELEASE DATE: April 28, 2017
We’ve seen some impressive previews of the indie horror Little Nightmares, so I was excited to dive in and try not to die. Spoiler alert: I died. Lots.
In the game, you play as a tiny little girl named Six. And when I say tiny, I do mean tiny. She looks like she weighs only a few pounds, as you can see in the images. Small and seemingly helpless, Six is also all alone in this dark, depressing little world known as The Maw. Why you’re there, how you got there in the first place, why you’re alone, where you need to go—none of these things are known. You simply start the game by getting up, and beginning to make your way through this terrible place, navigating its many dangers on your journey.
Little Nightmares is a stealth/puzzle side-scroller. Sort of. You are moving from one side of the screen to the other, but, unlike many side-scrollers where you can only move left or right, you can often move in all directions here. This gives you multiple options in figuring out how to get through the various treacherous areas and obstacles you’ll encounter.
And treacherous areas and obstacles you shall encounter. As mentioned above, I died many times while playing. You will too, most likely. It’s like a mini Dark Souls. But here you have no sword, no magic. You can only learn from your mistakes and not do what you did to get yourself dead. There were numerous times I was able to make it around the biggest threat to my well-being, only to take one wrong step while walking a narrow plank high above after…just when I thought I was in the clear. This led to me plummeting to my end with a sickening thud, and having to start over. It’s something you get used to quickly.
I also use “died” loosely. One of my concerns going into Little Nightmares was something I saw in an earlier gameplay demo from September of 2016. In it, the player is spotted and caught by a nasty chef. But nothing happens. He simply picks you up and you go back to your last checkpoint.
My hope, especially after seeing the “Nine Deaths of Six” trailer, was that getting caught would have greater consequences. At one point in the trailer a chef stuffs you in a fish he’s preparing, which is more along the lines of what I was expecting to happen. You can end up in a fish if caught at the right time, and there are some other unpleasant ends for Six to meet. But a lot of the times you’re caught nothing happens, sadly, and you simply start over from your last checkpoint.
Being spotted and chased by some of The Maw’s repulsive residents is still incredibly tense, don’t get me wrong, but I would have loved to see some creative kills thrown into the mix more. Hell, even non-death consequences such as being put in a cage as someone’s new pet would have been a cool addition. In either case, it would have made the thought of being captured all the more nerve-racking to the player. This is by no means a game-killer. Just one thing I personally wished had been handled a little differently.
Captured or dead, the fragility of Six is part of what makes the game work so well though. She’s so small, so innocent, so ill-equipped for such an extraordinary situation. All of your childhood fears (and some adult ones) come rushing back as you play: helplessness, the dark, claustrophobia, loneliness, the boogeyman, heights, creepy crawlies, and more. There’s no escaping them. What Six does have, is her instincts and the ability to hide in places most wouldn’t be able to, and she’s able to use those tools to try to survive. Other children like her, as you’ll see, are not so capable of surviving the harsh environment.
The real selling point for Little Nightmares, however, is the world developer Tarsier Studios has created. The design, the sounds, the characters. It’s all incredibly well-done. In fact, every image I’ve included in this review are screenshots I took myself while playing. I’m confident you could screenshot a great deal of it and they’d all make for interesting pictures.
Fitting to the title, The Maw truly is nightmarish. Bleak and desolate, it feels like it was built on pure pain and torment. You see it almost everywhere you look; you feel it making your way through. And yet, despite the soul-crushing darkness that exists there, there are still rare rays of good that shine through from time to time and give you hope.
If you’re not a big fan of horror games, don’t let that stop you from giving it a shot. It is a horror game, absolutely, but it’s not overwhelmingly scary to the point where you don’t want to do anything for fear of triggering that next jump scare. This is more of a creepy and unsettling game, aimed more at making your skin crawl than straight-up scaring you.
All-in-all Little Nightmares is a unique and memorable gaming experience, and—even though it might not brighten your day much—just seeing the world alone makes it worth playing.