Like Inside and Limbo before it, Little Nightmares tells a creepy story with no use of dialogue. The comparisons don’t end there, as everything from the game’s style to perspective feels a lot like the aforementioned Playdead developed games. It’s a good comparison to make, as both Inside and Limbo are known for being two of the most solid games released in recent years. With indie charm and a helping handful of horror, does Little Nightmares gain “masterpiece” status like the games it draws inspirations from?
Enter the Little Nightmare
Little Nightmare is more of an experience rather than a plainly told story, leaving much up to your interpretation. The game is told without any dialogue or text boxes, so a lot of the narrative is purely imaginative. Not to say that Little Nightmares is light on story, but rather that it uses the environment and tone to create an atmosphere rather than weaving a complex tale.
In the game you control Six, an incredibly tiny girl in a yellow rain suit. Without much in the ways of introduction or explanation, you’re shoved into a dreamlike world of morbid imagery. It’s not initially clear where you are or what your purpose is, and finding these things out is a big motivation to push forward. The world that developer Tarsier Studios has created is heavy, dark, and intimidating. I can’t say much more about the story without getting into spoiler territory, but know that everything wraps up nicely.
Navigating the Nightmare
As I said before, Little Nightmares‘ gameplay is very reminiscent of Limbo and Inside. Like Inside, you view the game from a 2D perspective, but can move within a 3D space. Developers who worked on the Playstation 3 classic LittleBigPlanet had a hand in this as well, so Six’s movements feel like that in a way. You don’t float, but rather feel quite heavy. Six has a definite weight to her, despite her tiny appearance.
As far as abilities go, Six is quite lacking. As the player, you don’t have too many options. Six can run, jump, grab onto items and ledges, and… that’s about it. You have a trusty lighter that you can activate when things get too dark for visual clarity, but for the most part, you’ll find yourself jumping across platforms and doing some light puzzle solving. As the game continues, you’ll encounter large and grotesque monsters. These parts of the game feel more deliberate in their stealth mechanics, often tying small puzzles to outsmarting the foes. Luckily, the game never settles in one play style for too long. You’ll often find yourself in new situations, forcing you to think in some clever ways.
Occasionally, these encounters can come down to trial and error. I certainly got frustrated more often than normal for these types of games. Whether due to a confusing encounter or misjudging my position in the 3D plane, Little Nightmares had a tendency to stop me up. While I don’t consider challenging sections an inherent negative, they definitely become more noticeable when it breaks up the immersion. I’m not saying that Little Nightmares should be easier, but maybe a bit better with its direction and deliberate in player movement.
What a Beautiful Dream
A lot of credit has to be given to the art design team and the animators. Generally speaking, this game is a technical wonder. Graphically, Little Nightmares is top notch, consistently delivering a high quality experience. Lighting effects are fantastic and textures look great to boot. However, Little Nightmares succeeds due to its excellence across the board.
Technically speaking, the game never dropped frames or stuttered. I encountered no visual or audio glitches while playing, and the experience was never halted by a technical mishap. Despite the impressive visuals and technical solidity, I was mostly impressed by the animation. Little Nightmares truly feels alive, regardless of how outlandish and dreamlike the setting. This drives the horror home, as attention to detail is quite good. Rats scurry by in wet tunnels, little “nome” people erupt from hiding places and scatter, and the world feels squirmy and uncomfortable.
These elements add up to a fantastically morbid place to inhabit. The world of Little Nightmares is ever-changing, hard to identify, and creepy by design. The game really shows off its art design when the camera pulls back, giving you a larger view of the surroundings. This happens infrequently, but these moments are absolutely great looking. There’s an overall sense of scale that is always present in Little Nightmares, usually making you feel like the smallest creature in existence.
The music is also great as well, albeit a bit minimal. The game is often quiet rather than loud, and the score reflects that. Most of the music is haunting melodies played during distressing points. The main melody of the game is a floaty, haunting collection of children’s hums, moving up and down the musical scale in threes. The music feels like a lullaby gone wrong, a subversion of that which should bring you happiness. While minimal and infrequent, the music of Little Nightmares is one of its best elements.
The Bottom Line on Little Nightmares
Little Nightmares is a creepy, crawly, crazy good time. Unfortunately, it never reaches the heights of games like Inside, but does a pretty good job getting close. The uncomfortable atmosphere and haunting music do a good job at pulling you in, but occasionally frustrating design and frequent deaths pull you out just as quickly. It’s pretty comparable to a Tim Burton film; dripping with style but lacking a solid substance. Not to imply that Little Nightmares lacks substance; the game is competent and fun to play. Often, it simply goes for a stylish flare over building a better gameplay experience.
Little Nightmares will take you anywhere from 3-5 hours to complete, with hard-to-find collectibles for replayability. A large amount of the story is left for you to interpret, so I could easily see playing through the game once more. In my opinion, the game is a bit short for the price point, but definitely worth experiencing. I had fun with Little Nightmares, and I’m sure you will too. However, your amount of fun will differ from mine. Ultimately, your enjoyment (or lack thereof) will come down to how much you enjoy the creepy vibe and main gameplay structure. If you’re not a fan of horror elements and you don’t like platforming, you won’t like Little Nightmares. Conversely, if you can handle a bit of spookiness and like narrative experiences like Inside, you’ll be quite pleased.
Note: This game was played on an Xbox One.