As we entered the later part of the afternoon on the final day of Gamescom, I checked my schedule to find that I had something pretty exciting lined up. I had half an hour with Bandai Namco’s latest IP, Little Nightmares. This childhood fear-inspired game had grasped my interest like the hands which grab your ankles from under the bed. But what exactly was in store for me?
Upon entering the fairly quiet presentation area, I noticed that it had been decorated in a way which reminded me of the creepy old house down the end of the street where my childhood home sat. It featured old Edwardian-style wallpaper complete with wonky paintings which held screenshots for the game.
After a brief presentation from Bandai Namco and the game’s creators, Tarsier Studios, we were allowed to get hands-on with the first part of the game. And while the game itself felt largely familiar, there was just something lurking deep beneath the game which urged me to explore.
The game has players take control of a little girl who has found herself trapped at the bottom of the Maw, a sort of mechanical floating island which bobs aimlessly in the sea from place to place. There’s a level of mystery around the Maw which draws people towards it, and while I may not necessarily enjoy the open sea, I too wanted to explore what this mysterious mechanical beast had within it.
Being immediately thrust into the game, I was informed of the various controls through a sort of micro-tutorial area. Immediately I was thrown back to my time with Playdead Studios’ LIMBO, and found myself pretty comfortable with the control system. While the familiarities with LIMBO are apparent, in Little Nightmares players aren’t constantly running, in fact exploration is certainly the key in this game as not everything meets the eye.
Once I’d managed to fumble my way out of the first room I was introduced to one of the game’s horrendous creatures, a sort of sweaty, lumpy chef fellow who hasn’t figured out how to breathe with his mouth closed. Having been introduced to this fellow during the presentation, I knew that he wasn’t the most friendliest of creatures, and was advised to steer clear.
That however was easier said than done, and this is where, at least for me, Little Nightmares really stood out.
The whole idea behind Little Nightmares is that everything is looked at through a child’s eyes. The environments as a whole are massive, doors need to be jumped for, tables can be easily walked under, and everything is large and exaggerated. Instantly, you feel overwhelmed and almost fearful, and that’s exactly what the game wants to make you feel.
Entering the kitchen with our mouth-breathing buddy, we’re immediately told to sneak otherwise you’re done for, but it needs to be perfectly timed otherwise he’ll spot you and add you to the menu as today’s special. Immediately fear set in and I felt genuinely scared by this mouldy-looking creature bashing away at his putrid steaks. Then, I found what I thought to be a perfect opportunity, I slowly crept away from my hiding spot and made a dash for it.
Instantly I was spotted, the googly-eyed buffoon shrieked and made a run for it. I panicked as soon as I hit one of the shelves and forgot which button to use to begin climbing. Eventually I found my footing but it was too late, I was one-eye level with the beast and I was snapped up and served for breakfast.
Fortunately, I wasn’t immediately sent back to the beginning, and found myself outside of the little hole I used to enter the Kitchen. My second attempt went a little smoother, though I was still spotted as I hit the shelves I needed to use to get away, fortunately he didn’t catch me in time and proceeded to shriek and babble as I found myself in the next room.
It wasn’t over yet.
This next room was dark and empty with nothing but a meat grinder. Things seemed calm until sir-porks-a-lot started trying to smash through the door. I decided to cheese it into the nearest elevator and found myself in a room where I could compose myself.
This is where the pressure of playing a demo while surrounded by the devs got to me a little. Little Nightmares isn’t necessarily a straight forward, linear puzzle game. You are required to turn back on yourself to find the answers, something which I really didn’t want to do knowing what was lurking below. After about 10 minutes of wandering backwards and forwards I was eventually pointed in the right direction, and managed to complete the demo.
All in all, this brief ten-to-fifteen minute demo had me pawing for more. I’m really not a fan of horror games, but Little Nightmares has a sense of mystery and intrigue around it which makes me want more. Also, the horror was done right, in my opinion. There were no jump scares, rather a sense of fear of the unknown, and felt exactly like how your mind would play tricks on you as a kid, and I love that.
I haven’t even touched upon the way the game looks, but you can get some idea of what to expect from the screenshots above.
Little Nightmares is set to launch on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in Spring 2017.