Honestly, less you read about Little Nightmares the better. That might sound a little odd in a game review, but Little Nightmares is best experienced with little to no knowledge about it going in. This is a brand new puzzle platformer from developer Tarsier Studios, who you may know as the co-developers of the LittleBigPlanet series.
But this isn’t another cuddly Sackboy adventure. Far from it. Little Nightmares is like our knitted hero’s absolute hell, where grotesque obese monsters attend a horrendous feast known as the Maw and this little yellow raincoat wearing heroine might end up as an amuse bouche.
Gorgeous graphics belie seriously dark content
While Little Nightmares might look like a cross between Coraline, LittleBigPlanet and perhaps even a Tim Burton film, the glorious graphics belie a much darker tone. This is much more along the lines of PlayDead’s Inside than anything that’s ever come out of Media Molecule and it’s a seriously atmospheric experience.
The basic premise is that you’re a tiny little doll-like girl called Six, who’s being held captive deep within the bowels of a ship. But on this ship the ‘Lady’ always watches and the guests are arriving for the Maw, hungry and flabby. In order to escape, Six will have to avoid the various perils of her environment, overcoming the fact that she could fit in your pocket, to reach freedom.
As is suggested by the name, Little Nightmares is supposed to play on your deepest childhood fears: those shadows on the wall that stretch into long arms and clawing hands; dolls with staring faces coming to life; feeling too small and weak to be able to do anything well and so on. But, these fears have taken on a whole new level in Little Nightmares to become something we can fear in adulthood. We didn’t even realise we had a weird fear of leeches until playing this…
The side-scrolling nature of Little Nightmares only helps emphasise these new-found fears too. The camera will regularly wobble and shake, especially when Six is perched precariously atop a huge bookcase or running for her life from the seal-like Maw guests as they flub on their bellies grabbing at her heels. It might sound frustrating, but it only serves to brilliantly highlight just how fragile and powerless Six is against her adversaries and her environment.
It doesn’t help that the soundtrack perfectly encapsulates those feelings too with echoes of nursery rhymes and childhood songs woven into something more eerie and sinister, and Six’s heartbeat racing against the noise as the monsters draw near.
And my, what monsters they are. Aside from the ridiculously obese and grotesque Maw guests, there are other horrors to face. We’re loath to ruin them for you here, but if you image a twisted, humourless version of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, you’re halfway there. And don’t even get us started on the blind, long-armed ‘man’. That series of events is something that’s going to haunt our nightmares for weeks to come.
A powerful and thought-provoking story
It’s not always clear what’s going on in Little Nightmares, but that’s part of its charm. The story weaves around themes of power and fear, hunger and greed, surveillance states and occasionally even touches on our deepest fears by having Six wade through a sea of children’s empty shoes, conjuring images of The Holocaust.
Those themes are built into an incredibly well-crafted puzzle platformer too. There’s a wonderful interplay with light and darkness, with Six’s trusty lighter to hand to help you see beyond what’s immediately visible. It helps you realise there’s plenty of depth to this side-scroller the more you progress.
Technically, the tasks can be quite repetitive, with several sections asking you to find a key, while elsewhere terrifyingly tense games of hide and seek must be played with your captors and those horrible beasts. There’s plenty of climbing and moving around objects to access new areas too, so it’s fairly standard in terms of gameplay mechanics.
But it doesn’t matter. Tarsier Studios has created a world where nothing is as it seems and you’re regularly caught off guard, especially in those rare moments where you think you’re safe. The tension and the pacing are strung incredibly tight that this is a game that really needs to played in just one or two sittings. And at around eight hours long, that’s entirely possible – especially as you won’t want to stop playing, no matter how concerned you might feel about your mental state.
Is Little Nightmares any good?
Although there are clear Inside influences here, what Tarsier has created with Little Nightmares is much more than that and is nothing short of a masterpiece. The way the soundtrack and gameplay work together to create such a tense, unnerving atmosphere is expertly done and Six is an incredibly powerful protagonist, despite the fact she never speaks.
At times the graphic style might feel almost feel deceptive but it’s just part of Little Nightmares’ ability to manipulate both your emotions and your fears. This is an incredible experience from start to chilling close.
Little Nightmares is available from April 28 on PC, PS4 (tested) and Xbox One priced at £19.99/$19.99.