Have you ever awoken at night to realize that the terror you were just experiencing was just a nightmare? While you may be able to cast away these false realities within moments, not everyone has that luxury. This includes Six, the main character of Tarsier Studios' Little Nightmares.
Six exists within a living nightmare, a place where home is a place he doesn't want to be but is bound to, and danger lurks around every corner. In Little Nightmares you're invited to witness his journey to escape the gymnasium of terror that has oppressed him all his life. Are you up for the task?
A Nightmarish Playground
Six is a malnourished young boy who lives in one of the worst places imaginable. The Maw, a decrepit vessel with dreary hallways and creepy enemies, is where you begin your journey.
The Maw is an extraordinary place. Incredible attention has been paid to each square foot of the environment, with its cold subterranean factories and Victorian era bedrooms. Book shelves, pipes, wooden chairs, and other objects serve not only as instruments of presentation, but also for gameplay. This is a puzzle game at heart, one that teaches you to analyze your surroundings and use what's available to progress to the next area.
As great as Little Nightmares presents itself, it sounds even better. The sound of water dripping from the ceiling, floorboards creaking from the weight of monsters above, and the shrieking of these monsters when they become aware of your presence plays a tremendous role in bringing this world to life.
Little Nightmares is a fitting name. After a rather lengthy tutorial that introduces you to the small number of gameplay mechanics that you need to be familiar with, the adventure routes through set pieces that merge basic puzzles with stealth and chase sequences involving bizarre monsters. Thse set pieces differ from monster to monster, and across the small number of chapters. So, there is a mild amount of deviation which goes a long way toward keeping your interest as the journey progresses.
Monster design is a one of the game's greatest assets. Although during your initial hour Six doesn't encounter much in the way of monster diversity, this ramps up along with pacing toward the final minutes as the plot crescendos into a fulfilling ending. You might be convinced that this game won't scare you after your initial interactions, but don't let that fool you. Little Nightmares finds a way to trigger your adrenaline at one point or another, you just have to progress to that point.
The world of Little Nightmares is perceived through a dynamic side camera that is most similar to Playdead's works, Limbo and Inside. However, unlike these games you can move around on a 3D plane. This serve the game well during certain sections that involve stealth, providing options for pathing. However, it also proves problematic during the game's may platforming sections.
The controls regularly let down the experience. Six is a troublesome character to command, leading to unnecessary death. Most of the time this occurs as you misjudge the positioning of the character and jump across a gap only to fall into the abyss, while other times chase sequences end with you getting caught on an object. Pair this with the game's questionable checkpoint locations and you have a cause for frustration in a game that could have relied more heavily on its atmosphere.
That's not to say that the gameplay is as horrific as the monsters. Moving around, picking up objects, and other regular interactions perform fine, it's just that the will to pursue the ending is tested by shortcomings in gameplay design.
In addition, while a few puzzles are clever, they never evolve beyond being anything more than "basic". Pick up a key and put it in the lock, climb a kitchen counter and pull a switch, jump from a platform to a rope; these are the standard actions that make up a large part of the gameplay experience.
Little Nightmare appears to have a double meaning. On one hand, the gameplay is a nightmare, regularly testing your patience and will to push forward. On the other, the atmosphere and audio design prove terrifying in a way that horror fiends will admire.
There's an equal amount of qualities to like and dislike, but when it comes down to it Little Nightmares succeeds at delivering on its promise of being an interesting horror game unlike anything else.