Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, PC
The first time I ever saw any footage of Bandai Namco’s gruesome puzzle-platformer, Little Nightmares, was at the Golden Joysticks 2016. The trailer appeared on a big screen and from that point I have been following the development of this game very closely. Sharing a similar dark theme to INSIDE and Limbo, games which I enjoyed a lot, it was easy to draw those comparisons and assume the game would deliver the same experience. In actual fact, comparing Little Nightmares to those games would be doing it a disservice, not necessarily because it is a better game but because it delivers an additional experience that was not as obvious in the Playdead’s titles.
A Dark Horse
It is hard to believe that Tarsier Studios, developers of Little Nightmares, also developed Little Big Planet since the art style of both games are like chalk and cheese! However, Tarsier have left no stone unturned in creating such as dark and genuinely scary environment. You control Six, a yellow raincoated character around the dark, sea-dwelling world called the Maw navigating through various puzzles in your struggle to avoid death.
Every puzzle that presents itself to you, every room that you enter starts to send your imagination in to overdrive as you inevitably start looking for the dangers in every dark corner of the room. This sense of fearing the dark may be childish by nature but Little Nightmares does an impeccable job of reminding you that fear of the unknown is an inherent human trait. This fundamental concept is what gives this game the edge against other similar platformers.
It is not just the environments that are creepy but also the character design. The idea of being chased by the Janitor, a man with long arms stretching out of the shadows, is funnily enough something you would only see in your nightmares. The knife-wielding, giant butchers, although not the stuff of traditional nightmares, are terrifying characters, if only for their monstrous appearances. The panic that sets in when the subsequent chase scenarios that inevitably follows will get the adrenaline going. You know what happens when they catch you will not be pretty!
The last contributing factor to what makes this game so effectively creepy are the sound effects. Every creak and whistle is sandwiched between high tension, edge of your seat style puzzle solving. Your life literally depends on it (at least in the digital world) and SFX make your truly believe you are living out this nightmare!
Little By Name, Little By Nature
For all the things that Little Nightmares does well you can’t help but feel the overall experience is a little short. With a completion time of approx. 5 hours this is may not be enough for some players. Granted that Limbo and INSIDE both have short play times along with other more recent games, such as Firewatch, having shorter campaigns too but you can’t help but feel like by the time you are engrossed in the story it comes to an end far too quickly.
The other criticism that stood out whilst playing Little Nightmares was that there is a significant emphasis on trial and error. Where other puzzle games have implemented this concept in fun and other challenging ways, in Little Nightmares it can feel tedious which means that your 5 hour run through of the game may be made up of patches of frustration rather than enjoyment.
Both of these are small factors that should not stop anyone from playing the game but should be considerations nonetheless. Push through the frustration as the positives far outweigh the negatives in this game.
In summary, Little Nightmares deserves all of its plaudits for creating the immersive, yet terrifying environment in the Maw. The core game play may not be anything new or original but the game design and story in the game is what makes this an unmissable experience. The short play time and tedious trial and error game play are a small price to pay for a scary, but fun experience that you won’t replicate with any other game!