Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares is a beautifully designed horror game in which players take on the role of a small, raincoated girl named Six as she seeks to escape an underwater prison known as the Maw. It’s a fascinating trip through a sinister world full of dangers and darkness, but it’s also a relatively brief one that will leave you begging for more.
Developed by Tarsier Studios / Published by Bandai Namco Entertainment
Available on the PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Reviewed on the PC.
*Review code provided by Bandai Namco.
Little Nightmares focuses more on the action and the environment than the plot, bringing forth a minimalistic story that is told through an extremely detailed and highly nightmarish Tim Burton-esque world full of bizarre monsters and creepy inhabitants. There is no dialogue here that develops the story as you go along; instead players piece together what’s going on as they explore the Maw and its various environments and witness the actions of the creepy creatures that patrol its rooms and corridors. It’s an experience that flows effortlessly and develops naturally, and while by the end it left me with plenty of questions due to its cryptic nature, it’s a fun ride from start to finish.
It’s also a beautiful looking game too, with design that is reminiscent of stop-motion animation and puppetry. The world is eerie and dark, and the creature designs are fantastic, invoking childish nightmares with cartoony, disproportionate bodies and grotesque appearances. Whether it’s a creepy looking thing with long arms or a round and flabby gluttonous cook chasing you around a kitchen, Little Nightmares’ monster designs are definitively among the game’s highlights. It’s a gorgeous and adventure, but never too violent, as the game doesn’t feature any gore.
When it comes to how it plays, Little Nightmares is a 3D stealth puzzler on a 2D plane, similar to games like Playdead’s Inside. Players take control of Six from a third-person perspective, and help her navigate through various levels and chambers of the Maw. The controls are pretty simple with Six being able to crawl, run, jump and push/pull/grab/throw, as well as use a lighter to illuminate the darkness, and the overall goal is to escape the Maw while avoiding all manner of monstrosities looking to catch you. The controls are responsive, and the gameplay is fairly simple, with players flipping switches and manipulating gears, hiding in shadow, using keys to unlock doors, jumping across gaps, and running away from pursing enemies to get to safety.
Some puzzles and encounters are mostly about trial and error however, as while on some occasions the solution is within sight and is obvious, at other times it isn’t, and players will die as they figure out exactly what they have to do to proceed and escape enemies. It happens often, but it never gets frustrating as you learn how to approach each situation and get through unscathed.
My only real complaint about the game is that it’s extremely short. I completed the whole adventure in just three hours on my first playthrough, and while there’s some collectables that I missed on the way, such as hidden gnomes that you can find (known here as Nomes) and small statues that can be broken, it’s still a brief experience that can easily be completed in one sitting. I wish there was more content here, as it goes by quick.
Overall, Little Nightmares is a fantastic yet brief adventure through a nightmarish world full of creepy characters and creative environments. While it ends quickly, the stealth gameplay and puzzles are solid, and there’s tons of heart-pounding moments in the game, making it one horror game you definitively have to check out.
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