Ever since Bandai Namco announced Little Nightmares I’ve been a massive fan of the game, so much so that I played through the hands-on demo not only at Gamescom, but also EGX and EGX Rezzed too. I just couldn’t get enough of this game. Now, the time has finally arrived, but was it worth the wait.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of games that have been created just to give you a fright. I’ll steer clear of Outlast, Resident Evil can also fuck right off. However, there’s something about Little Nightmares that draws me closer, something intriguing, and something compelling about the way it induces feelings.
Void of all narrative you’re expected to figure out what’s going on in the game by experimentation. It’s one of those puzzle games, not unlike Playdead’s Limbo or Inside that has you thinking on your toes, however what Tarsier Studios have managed to do is not only challenge you into figuring out how to unlock a door or get from one place to another by fashioning a swing from a string of sausages, they’ve managed to induce panic an overwhelming sense of haste that sends your heart racing.
This ability to call on such emotions from a game which could loosely be described as a sidescrolling platformer, a genre which usually you’d feel no real attachment to, is an incredible feat. However while the game overall is a wild emotional ride, it’s not without its problems.
The game itself performs incredibly well, its responsive, and you can really feel the panic of little Six thanks to the vibration feedback of the controller and the thumping heart sounds that work in tandem, however there are a few unfortunate flaws in the game which make it a fairly frustrating experience the main one being perspective.
I’ve previously described Little Nightmares as a side-scrolling platformer, but it’s a little more than that. It could also be described as a 2.5D game, but again, it’s a little more than that too. You see the game heavily relies on perspective, one moment you may be at the forefront of the environment, and the next be far off into the distance. It’s this use of perspective that allows you to really see how small Six feels in amongst this world of gigantic horrors, however it can also work against the player.
Little Nightmares is a game where you need to be fast and precise. However you’ll often find that the depth perception can be a little awkward due to shadows and other artefacts causing you to perhaps overstep and fall off the edge, or simply miss the Six-sized hole completely causing you to either get captured or trapped meaning you have to start back from the beginning of that sequence.
Initially, loading times posed the biggest problem, but fortunately Tarsier have managed to solve that issue somewhat. Loading times are still a bit of a problem, especially when the game loads and almost immediately you’re captured by the gangly-armed child snatcher causing it to begin loading all over again, but it’s not as much of an issue as it was.
Those points aside, once you begin to get used to the lighting and find your feet, you won’t want the game to end. There’s something just so compelling about exploring the Maw, or should I say, escaping the Maw. There’s a sense of fear offered in this game that you just cant get away from.
Remember when you were a kid and something scary would happen in a movie and you’d cover your face, only to peek through your fingers? Yeah, that’s how I felt with Little Nightmares. There’s something about this game that has you wanting to punish yourself more and more both with the creepy nature of the various creatures based in each chapter, as well as the difficulty and awkwardness of some of the locations.
Visually, the game is gorgeous. One thing I noticed immediately when I loaded the game is that the final release of Little Nightmares looks a million times better than the version presented at consumer events, which says a hello of a lot because the game looked pretty good back then, too.
The game’s use of physics is also pretty great too, but it’s something you take for granted. The game is set on The Maw, a huge ocean facility currently floating in amidst a sea somewhere. To accurately represent this, the entire game gently sways with lose items acting accordingly. Much larger items like doors, carts, and hanging ropes also react with the sway of the Maw, and you can use this to your advantage getting a much larger swing if timed right, or making the effort of pushing a heavy cart along a track that little bit easier.
What makes Little Nightmares impressive however is its complete lack of instructions. Upon loading the game you’re offered nothing in the way of tutorials, there are no screens showing you the controls, it’s up to the player to learn what does what. There are the occasional instructional cues, but they only really raise their heads when you’re struggling to muster a new mechanic, such as swinging on a rope or running and jumping.
This of course gives the player the same sense of being in the unknown as Six herself, but also is a testament to Tarsier for how intuitive they’ve made the controls. Sure it doesn’t stray too far from conventional movement controls, but using the left trigger to grab and hold onto things and holding X to run are new, but feel so natural.
Another thing the developers need to be praised for is their ability to not make things overly complex. Things like throwing something at a button or using a lock on a key have been made into automatic movements provided the player is in the right place. This helps with the game’s overall panic-infused gameplay.
Overall, Little Nightmares is this generations Limbo, it’s creepy, frustrating at times, great-looking, and has a weird sort of power over your emotions. It’s just a shame that it’s so short clocking in at around 6 hours.