Puzzle-platformers are a genre of gaming that I don’t talk about incredibly often. I do tend to enjoy a small amount of them, but I feel it’s a case of where the average titles outweigh the superb ones. Two of my favourites in recent memory are Unravel and Limbo. Obviously I like them for very different reasons but they were both enjoyable to me. With this in mind, Little Nightmares always appeared like I game I would enjoy, and indeed it definitely excels in all the areas that a puzzle-platformer should, and is a great (albeit short) experience.
Little Nightmares sees you assume the role of a nine year-old named Six who (much like me) is pretty much always hungry. She wakes up in the lower depths of The Maw, a surreal resort that houses sick and powerful creatures and caters to their whims. It doesn’t take long for you to realise that The Maw holds many creepy crawlies that want nothing but to… well… do unkind things to you. Creatures ranging from the resort’s patrons to the leeches in the depths of the resort itself have fairly nefarious plans for Six. Every hostile entity you encounter is as harrowing and unnerving as the last. Personally, I wouldn’t board such an unwelcoming ship in the first place, but we’re not here to talk about that. To this end, Little Nightmares certainly nails the nightmares part of its name. Actual narrative is fairly vague, but Little Nightmares does feature various themes like gluttony and brutality, which can be seen as a nod to the nuances of life. Six is an endearing character, and the fact she is pretty much always hungry means I can relate to her.
Little Nightmares features a relatively simple control scheme and only a few mechanics. For starters, you have a lighter which can help light up the dark environments which is essential for identifying environmental details or making sure you don’t fall in a pit. You can also light lamps which will permanently light up an area. I was a bit disappointed to not see the lamp lighting implemented into the checkpoint system (perhaps a consequence of my love for the Soulsborne games). Speaking of checkpoints, while they are generally fine, there were a couple instances where failing an area would take you back to a checkpoint that was brutally far away. These are in the minority, and the game isn’t overly difficult, but you’ll find a few instances where the placement of checkpoints will seem a little unforgiving.
Have I ever told you the tragedy of Darth Plagueis The Wise?
The gameplay of Little Nightmares is nothing groundbreaking, which isn’t to say that the gameplay is bad (because it’s not), but it feels like things we’ve seen before. There are also some control issues that arise in the more unique aspect of the gameplay which utilises both the background and the foreground for the platforming. While the concept is cool, the movement and the controls can be a little unresponsive, making for some frustration when precision is required.
In terms of puzzles, Little Nightmare is phenomenal. Tarsier have displayed an impressive level of puzzle design with clever use of terrain and objects to solve the obstacles which are in your way. The level design is always on point which is one of the most important things. Despite the niggling control issues, the platforming still works fairly well and manages to be fun during the game. The puzzle aspect of Little Nightmares is by far its greatest asset.
On an audiovisual level, Little Nightmares is solid. While not going for a photorealistic look as Unravel, Little Nightmares’ visual palette has the power to make you stop in awe of its environments. The art direction is dreary, twisted and dark, contrasting with Six as the light in this darkness. The models of the enemies you face are demented and unsettling. If I were that ugly… well I’d never hope to be that ugly. There isn’t much of a soundtrack to praise in Little Nightmares, but the sound design is impeccable. One of my favourite parts about games which try to tap into the themes of the horror genre is the use terrifying soundscapes to feed into a fear of the unseeable. In this aspect this game does not disappoint. The cries that the gluttonous guests emit (as well as the other enemies you face in the game) truly add suspense to an unsettling atmosphere.
Suddenly the vegan lifestyle is a lot more appealing…
Other than a few unfair checkpoints and the mildly clunky/unresponsive gameplay, the only other real issue for me was the loading times. The loading times are inordinately long, and break immersion and harm the momentum of the game.
I really wasn’t quite expecting to enjoy the relatively small experience that is Little Nightmares as much as I did. It captured the clever puzzles that I loved from Limbo, while also having a great visual style that gives it a good sense of identity. Even though the loading times can be long, the checkpoints can be a little punishing and the controls can be imprecise, Little Nightmares is certainly a game I would heartily recommend in good conscience.
Reviewed on PS4