Little Nightmares is the latest game from Swedish developer Tarsier Studios (LittleBigPlanet 3, Tearaway Unfolded). Players take control a young girl named Six after she awakens on a ghoulish vessel called The Maw. With no intro, Little Nightmares throws players directly into this mysterious and dangerous situation, where Six must run, hide, and sneak her way past oversized grotesque beings looking to recapture her or worse. With it’s creepy and sometimes humorous design, Little Nightmares is an original, and at times frustrating, game of hide n’ go seek.
Comparable only to recent indie titles like Limbo or Inside, Little Nightmares plays much of the same way. It has the same whimsical darkness, but does get more gross and creepy in many ways. The main gameplay difference is that players are not stuck on one place and can move up and down, a hybrid of a side-scroller and 3D. This does add some frustration though, in the low light of a single flame it can be hard to gauge the depth of a ledge or line up entry to a small tunnel hole. This does add some interesting gameplay, as players can use Six’s lighter and the right analog stick to direct the light and look around rooms.
Gameplay in Little Nightmares consists of jumping (A), sprinting (X), grasping objects to drag, pulling levers, and also climbing (RT); using a lighter for when things get especially dark (B), and crouching/sliding (LT). These elements are all used in various traps and puzzles, such as pulling a lever and sprinting toward a door as it closes and sliding under. Most of Little Nightmares consists of hiding, though. Many areas are residence to the nightmarish custodian or twin butchers who look like they crawled off of a Garbage Pail Kids card. There is no combat so players must run and hide, squeezing into tight spots, or sneaking in the shadows. Little Nightmares isn’t about jump scares, it tries to embrace the feeling we got as children hiding from our friends, the excitement of not breathing as your pursuers walk by mere inches away. There were a couple of times the hair stood on the back of my neck.
Little Nightmares has incredible graphics. Not only are the characters and backgrounds creative and original, but the lighting effects are fantastic, and the depth of areas is even more pronounced due to those effects. Music is non existent, but Little Nightmares does rely heavily on sounds, creaking boards, wind, and your own heartbeat in some situations. They are a perfect fit and provide that added creepiness. I recommend using a headset if you have one. My biggest complaint about Little Nightmares was with how short it was. I was able to complete it in under four hours and while the ending was satisfying, with no replay value to speak of, Little Nightmares comes up a little short on content.
Little Nightmares is a wonderfully weird and well done tale. The graphics and sound effects are very well polished. However I believe these high-rendered scenes are what causes Little Nightmares to suffer long load times. This can be particularly frustrating when trying solve a scenario and dying often. I would not go as far as to say Little Nightmares is as good as Inside or Limbo, as the platforming gameplay aspects, jumping and puzzle solving, are clunky in comparison. What Little Nightmares offers is a more visceral scare, a solid story, and crazy levels that look like something that Tim Burton would see in a fever dream. If you like the odd and the weird, with a bit of sneaking and hiding, pick up Little Nightmares, and sleep tight.
Little Nightmares is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam. This review is based on an Xbox One code provided for that purpose.