Little Nightmares is a game that’s been on my radar ever since Bandai Namco announced their involvement last year. Whilst it had been unveiled under a different name previously, the game’s heightened presence with a big name publisher behind it has certainly seen it gather a lot of buzz with other gamers too, including those at Gamescom 2016 who gave the game the ‘Best Indie’ award. It’s no surprise that it has caught the eye of so many gamers though – it’s got a twisted style that wouldn’t look out of place in a Tim Burton movie, whilst the presence of a child protagonist in a cutesy yellow mack adds a sense of innocence to it all. It really is a very unique title.
Little Nightmares is being developed by Tarsier Studios, a Swedish developer who’ve previously worked on titles such as ‘Little Big Planet’ and ‘Tearaway’. There was always something a little dark about the ‘Little Big Planet’ series despite its cutesy exterior, which may have been something that’s been building up at Tarsier Studios for awhile – at least they’ve got the creative freedom to go all out with it in Little Nightmares, and boy, they certainly seem to have embraced it given how twisted the world and its inhabitants are…
A lot of Little Nightmares is still shrouded in secrecy, so I’m not fully sure of what exactly is going on. In a nutshell, you have to help a young girl known as Six escape a mysterious and twisted vessel known as The Maw. Worst of all, The Maw is full of corrupted souls looking for something (or someone) nice to eat – unfortunately Six seems to be on the menu. It’s up to you to guide Six through The Maw and hopefully escape.
Six’s origin and how she ended up on The Maw is unknown right now, but it adds to the intrigue of the game. The dark nature of the world has me genuinely curious to find out what’s going on, so I’m looking forward to finding out some answers in the full game. For now though, I’ve had the chance to explore a level that seems to be quite a bit into the main game.
Little Nightmares plays like a puzzle-platformer, putting the player in a series of 3D environments that are viewed at from a fixed front angle. Whilst this perspective can traditionally make full exploration feel a little limited, the way the environments of Little Nightmares are designed ensured that there were endless opportunities to investigate every nook and cranny of an area. You’ll climb sets of drawers, bookcases, toilets; nearly anything you can see around you can be climbed or explored… if you can reach it. You don’t necessarily need to do too much exploration seeing as there’s typically a fixed path for you to follow, but being able to was nice and added a greater sense of scale to the The Maw.
Besides climbing, you’ll also be running, jumping, sneaking, dragging objects and throwing them around as you progress through the game and solve the plethora of puzzles that come your way. The platforming of Little Nightmares felt incredibly tight and refined, ensuring that I always had full control of Six and never felt like I couldn’t do something that I needed to – something that’s essential given the amount of daring leaps and climbs you’ll have to make during your adventure. One time in the demo I had to make a precise jump onto a piano that was swinging in mid-air on a rope. Whilst this jump did require good timing, the precise nature of the controls ensured that any death that occurred was going to be my own fault and not something I could blame on ‘poor jump mechanics’ or ‘shoddy controls’. It’s a quality I can really appreciate in a platformer and is a mark that’s often missed by smaller developers, but thankfully Tarsier Studios have got it spot on with Little Nightmares.
From what I’ve played of Little Nightmares there doesn’t seem to be any combat, though it doesn’t mean you won’t find ways to take down The Maw’s creepy inhabitants. During the demo I was pursued by a small legged, long armed, bizarre creature known as The Janitor whose height dwarfed Six. To add to his already eerie appearance, he also happened to be blinded by what looked like a layer of flesh wrapped around his face. I’ve already mentioned the Tim Burton-esque style of Little Nightmares, but The Janitor’s appearance epitomises the sort of strange thing we’d expect to come from the movie director’s genius mind. The Janitor’s blindness is utilised in-game though, with him not able to see Six’s movements but instead use his enhanced hearing to hunt her down.
This leads to plenty of set pieces that see you sneaking through the environment and taking time to hide when The Janitor is in pursuit. There are lots of places where you’re able to keep quiet though, with little crates and cages the perfect nooks to find a moment of solace when being hunted down. It feels like a lot of your time with Little Nightmares will be spent with enemies in pursuit of you, so it’s a good thing that chase scenes are tense and exciting; I was literally on the edge of my seat when The Janitor was chasing me down through a dark hallway, whilst each other scene that he was included in added a welcome feeling of angst too. Another quality I liked about the pursuits were that they never felt like you simply had to hold the analogue stick in one direction and run, with plenty of obstacles and tricky platforming sections to work through too.
The final pursuit in the demo culminated in Six being cornered in a room, though thankfully there was a vertical door keeping The Janitor out. Unfortunately this door was being held slightly open by a cage, allowing The Janitor to get his long, dangly arms in to try grabbing at Six. Whilst it was fairly obvious what you had to do to get out of this situation, actually evading The Janitor’s reach and getting to the cage could prove tricky. After a few attempts though I eventually managed to break the cage apart, in turn bringing the vertical door down with a smash and chopping off The Janitor’s arms, leaving them with me in this room whilst his screams could be heard on the other side of the door. Fittingly, this showdown marked the end of the demo, though I’m not too sure if it means that we won’t encounter the now arm-less freak again in the full game…
It wasn’t just The Janitor I had to worry about in the demo though. One particular scene that really stood out to me was when I was in a room that was flooded with shoes (bizarrely the presence of shoes seems to be a common theme in Little Nightmares). Players have to walk through all of these shoes to get to giant books that act as platforms, but as they do a terrifying unseen monster starts hunting them down with its appearance marked by all the shoes getting smashed out of its path. The fact you don’t get to see the monster adds to the terror; it’s a real case of fearing the unknown, with the whole scene having an almost ‘Jaws’ like feel in that you can’t quite see what’s hunting you down despite it making its presence clearly felt. Little Nightmares’s oddness takes what could easily be a simplistic pursuit scene and turns it into a well designed set-piece that really stuck in my mind – it highlights how the bizarre nature of the world of Little Nightmares is used to create moments of unforgettable brilliance.
Whilst Little Nightmares reminded me of plenty of other puzzle-platformers, I found that its biggest similarites were shared with both of developer Playdead’s titles, ‘Inside’ and ‘Limbo’. The platforming mechanics and puzzle solving felt very similar, whilst the dark vibe of both games was felt in Little Nightmares too. One thing that they don’t share is Playdead’s use of brutality; when caught by The Janitor I half expected him to take a bite out of Six, but instead the game fades to black with her fate instead left to the player’s imagination. Truth be told, given the bizarre and dark nature of the game I don’t expect her fate to be pretty, though it does add a more ‘family friendly’ vibe to the game. Despite the similarities between titles, Little Nightmares still manages to maintain its own identity; the comparison between them is more of a compliment and proof that Little Nightmares is on the right track, especially when you consider the critical acclaim Playdead have received with their titles.
I’ve already got a lot of love for Little Nightmares as we approach its impending release. The controls are tight, platforming and puzzling clever and varied, whilst encounters with enemies are always tense affairs – being hunted by bizarre creatures offers a real thrill and it’s something I’m looking forward to seeing more of in the full release. There were a few issues I came across in the demo with some graphical glitches on show and some severe load times between deaths, but I’m hoping these issues will be ironed out by the time the game gets released. Until then, I’ll just stay excited for my full adventure through the beautifully sullen and twisted world of Little Nightmares.
Little Nightmares is coming to the Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC on April 28th 2017 – find out more on the game’s official website through this link.