Little Nightmares has arrived, bringing with it the bony, slight of frame and vulnerable heroine that is Six. A tiny little girl in an already iconic yellow raincoat seemingly trapped in an over proportioned world. Little Nightmares is touted by its developers as a game that plays on childhood fears. While that may not be apparent on the surface, looking deeper into Little Nightmares’ four hour long statement reveals several metaphors rolled into one big visual experience.
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Avg Game Length: 4hrs
Little Nightmares’ Big Things
The disproportionate world around Six for one. Everything is bigger, difficult to understand and all the adults seem to be angry at you for something. Not only that, but Six is all alone with nobody to help her. The simple act of opening a door becomes a puzzling task in and of itself. If anything, Tarsier is to be commended on this kind of level design, doubtless demanding high levels of imagination and practical application. For example, placing door handles at a level natural for inhabitants to use and not so much for Six.
This world she finds herself in, The Maw, is never given any explanation or context. The homepage of the official Little Nightmares site will tell you it is home to lost souls. Fair enough, but that is never directly told to the player within the game. Suffice it to say, the setting of the game is given no introduction. Like its closest relatives, Inside and Limbo, Little Nightmares starts as if we are glimpsing the middle of the story onward. The lack of context or explanation adds to the mystery and how the player must piece things together through visual cues only. I was actually surprised by this decision. The sinister views of The Maw we’d been exposed to in pre-release hype are never seen.
More Sinister Than We’d Expected
Alongside the memorable art style, this air of mystery carries the tone of the game nicely. While artistically Little Nightmares may seem whimsical, its content is anything but. It explores themes of fear, gluttony, hunger and uselessness. Not ten minutes into the game, Six will encounter the dangling feet of a hanged man. She’s too small to see the rest of him. It’s at this point the player will realise this game is definitely not for kids. Further, the environment is complimented very well by Six’s lighter, which casts an eerie flicker in darker areas, causing the player to constantly squint to make out where to go next. This was not done to the extreme however, as Tarsier have done a great job with level design and letting the player know what to do next.
In order to progress to the following area, Six will constantly be solving light to barely challenging puzzles. This is not a problem as a sense of pacing and momentum in Little Nightmares is one of its greatest strengths. That said, there are no hand holdings or nudges to be found. Except for the oddly placed button tutorials at the start. Some functions are explained to you. Some, you’ll have to button mash to find out for yourself.
Six Can Interact With Just About Anything
Literally everything you see in the game is “grabbable”. What this means is a large set of drawers becomes a ladder in the eyes of Six. A ladder perhaps towards the solution or to nothing at all. This gives the Maw’s twisted fairytale environs more of a physical feel. It’s not simply the solution items that are grabbable. It also means it is still satisfying to know that, of all the things the player could have picked up this was the right one. This was the player’s choice to do so. A memorable example would be throwing something onto the on button of a television to distract the very sinister Janitor.
Speaking of the Janitor, he and his counterparts living in The Maw are likely what will make Little Nightmares so memorable for years to come. We have not seen their like in a videogame before. The Janitor is reminiscent of arachnids. A lot of the time we only see his freakishly long arms as he reaches for things… or Six. The Chefs are also very dedicated to their work, trying desperately to keep their kitchen clean and free of vermin like Six running about. Thanks to Unreal Engine 4, these sinister characters are realised perfectly with the polishing I’d hoped Tarsier would do after my pre-release hands on. Sadly, aside from the Geisha (yes you read that correctly), these are the only foes to speak of.
Did You Expect More As Well?
I can’t help but feel perhaps Tarsier could have handled pre-release expectations of their game a little better. There was some imagery I was looking forward to seeing in the flesh that never materialised in the final game. As such, I felt it could have benefited from being a little longer with just one more creepy enemy to play hide and seek with.
When I say hide and seek, I mean it. There will some moments where Six is caught outright and will have to run for her life. The gloomy nature of the game means the player will be frantically squinting for an escape on first run through. This compliments the eerie and sinister nature of the game. Wallpaper peels, books piled up become climbing towers and foes make unsettling noises and they try to figure out where you are.
As such, Little Nightmares and the many veiled metaphors it tries to impress on you could have cemented its position a little better with just a little more context. It’s almost as if its trying too hard to be an inexplicable mystery. Perhaps trying earn a place on the shelf next 2001: A Space Odysee. Something to be experienced and not understood. I suppose at full retail price of just £16 we can’t complain too much about just how short Little Nightmares is or the lack of replay value.
A Great Game That Burns Briefly Yet Brightly
Everything that’s here actually drips with quality. The graphics, the lighting, the sound design, the styling of 3-D sidescroller. My regular readers may feel this a common expression yet it’s one that fits well here – Little Nightmares is more like a gourmet snack, than a three course meal. Tarsier, having previously worked on Little Big Planet alongside Media Molecule, have without a doubt proven their competency at being a game developer working on their own. Final verdict – grab it for £16 at your local game store, rinse through it and trade it back in to at least get some of your money back. This isn’t indicative of a bad game, just one that you’ll be done with pretty sharpish.