Inside, Unravel; very few independent games have managed to ensnare me so comfortably in its whimsical charm. If there’s one misfortune to take from my time spent with Little Nightmares, it’s that it draws to a finish so unexpectedly, so instantaneously and in such a grand fashion that my thirst for its hypnotising ways remains unquenched, my hunger to explore this inspiring world a touch longer, unsatisfied.
Exquisite and deeply imaginative, Little Nightmares descends beneath the waves with many unanswered questions, yet it left me yearning for more. Its setting – The Maw, is every bit as bizarre and peculiar as the fictitious tale Little Nightmares accounts, and somehow two of the most questionable aspects of this startling adventure make LittleBigPlanet 3 co-developer Tarsier Studios solo debut title all the more delightful and deeply affecting.
Little Nightmares: Windows PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 [Reviewed]
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 28 April 2017
Price: £15.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
The Maw, a partially submerged monstrosity floats along with the waves of the ocean’s surface, its appearance comes on one solitary day every twelve months, however, always at the same time but never in the same location.
Interestingly though, in spite of the many question marks hanging over this dark floating infrastructure; more is known of Little Nightmares atrocious setting, than of its newest inhabitant — Six, the nine-year-old bright yellow rain mac wearing girl, and hero of this series of rather unfortunate events, who awakens from a nightmare to find herself alone on top a briefcase aboard The Maw.
The tale of Six is not one for the fainthearted. In fact, only a handful of cautionary footsteps pass before the mute character is forced to carefully push a wooden chair from beneath the dangling shoes of a man who swings too and fro from the ceiling above. Although we see little but the length of the man’s trousers and feet, a repressive fog settles very early on, a mist that refuses to lift.
A buoyant, nightmarish enigma, Little Nightmares‘ beautifully oppressive world is home to larger than life characters that much like the poor suicidal soul I had previously encountered, dwarf Six in both size and weight, towering high over the light-footed heroine with a demeaning stature that would put the frighteners on any small child sad or unfortunate enough to find themselves in this nine year old’s position.
As Six cautiously wanders Little Nightmares earliest passages and conundrums, it soon becomes apparent that most, if not all who occupy The Maw, want the precocious child dead; for what particular reason though, is completely unknown.
Armed with the sobering glow of a zippo lighter plucked readily from the inside the pocket of that brightly coloured mac, the scant visibility that accompanies Six is a lonely sight as she crouch walks the ventilation shafts and hesitantly nudges open large creaking doors to venture deeper into the rabbit hole.
Appearances can be deceptive, though none more so than in Six’s case. Little Nightmares heroine isn’t your ordinary nine-year-old girl. Her home throughout this duration, despite being a labyrinthine collection of grim, confusing and unsettling imagery; isn’t nearly enough to sway the small girl’s brave grit or lower her determination to discover an exit and escape her predicament.
At her disposal, Six has cleverly designed attributes to help her survive her newfound surroundings. Controlling Little Nightmares main character is a true joy as I guide little Six towards the comfort of shadows that call to me from underneath wardrobes or kitchen sinks before hurriedly scrambling up the exterior of a book shelve or pile of dirty plates to reach the safety of higher ground.
In Little Nightmares, making use of a room’s interior or the long forgotten inanimate objects that lie strewn about the floor are all key, figuring out what goes where a minor frustration. Disappointingly, in a game teeming with imagination, Little Nightmares puzzles require very little to move forward.
Remaining silent or out of plain sight in Little Nightmares is every bit as essential as the location of a path or object.
This is perfectly illustrated when a gangly arm protrudes through a narrow opening in a vent close to a slow-moving Six. The Janitor – a grotesque creation and occupant of this floating prison feels for the protagonist with his outreached inquisitive hand; reaching far and wide; punishingly scooping up the small child in its grisly clutches if it happens to brush against a desperately hiding Six.
Segments of careful navigation like this meet with timely decision-making when it comes to avoiding the forceful persuasions of those large unpleasantries; ensuring that exploration forever balances precariously on tenterhooks.
Baring the shallowest of any human traits, Little Nightmares locals are neither all monster nor altogether human, but likely something masquerading menacingly in-between. The Janitor, the portly Twin Chef’s; each character exists seemingly to stalk, haunt or prey upon Six if she falls into their eye line on her quest for escape.
Sparingly, solitude can, however, be found in moments between evasion or inevitable capture when the player is afforded a slither of space to breathe but forced to trace or seek out key specific items that might cause a loud noise or big enough a distraction to make a break for an exit, or the simple retrieval of a key from a wooden hook to unlock a locked door.
As gripping and enjoyable as Little Nightmares games of hide and seek or tense cat and mouse chases are, the game doesn’t quite nail everything down as it might have.
Like its colossal tormentors, Little Nightmares camera can surprisingly become the architect of the player’s downfall. At its best when panning out to offer glorious wide angle shots that provide the earth shattering realisation of size difference between Six and the daunting world around her before slowly closing in on the protagonist to tighten up and suffocate the player, it can offer so much visually.
Somehow though, where Little Nightmares close camera succeeds for large periods, at times it doesn’t provide the player with enough freedom to either look wide enough right or left to gauge the whereabouts of a pursuer. A hindrance that repetitively leads to confusion and then most likely death as all bearings become lost.
When its tight camera angles let it down, Little Nightmares does, however, succeed with musical charm and looks. The delicate trickle of water drops falling from up high, the loud crashing thud as a door slams shut on Six or frantic high pitched tones as passages of play draw to a conclusion with a hurried chase scene, Little Nightmares has a symphony of sound to match its intelligent gameplay; a perfect supplement to its wonderfully dreary artistic style and level design that is both haunting as it is pleasing on the eye.
Arguably its greatest aspect, both sound and aesthetic combine to burrow their way deep beneath my skin, like the lonely and tragic narrative of one raincoat wearing child’s woes in a harrowing world where nothing seems quite fair or quite right.
A smart, intricate and intimately haunting platformer, Little Nightmares short intrepid tale of a nine-year-old girl surviving in a world besieged by giants will worm its way inside your head and linger there long after the credits roll. While its puzzles lack a real competitive edge and its camera angle frustrates on occasion, Little Nightmares smooth controls, unsettling imagery and soothing lullaby-like soundtrack blend brilliantly to make this one of the independent games to look out for in 2017. Tim Burton doesn’t create video games, but if he did, Tarsier Studios Little Nightmares would be a fitting debut.