Game: Little Nightmares
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Console: PS4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Release Date: April 28, 2017
Dreams can be incredibly strange, and there’s no way of forcing yourself to A) have a dream, and more importantly, B) have a good dream. You never know when you’re going to be handed a nightmare to unravel, ruining your peaceful slumber.
Of course, it’s also worth pointing out that we all have different sorts of nightmares. While some have dreams of themselves drowning or being chased by an axe murderer, others fear clowns or large, scary animals (at one point in my life, I was having recurring nightmares about being chased and eaten by a bear, but I’ll save that tale for another day). The only reason I mention that there are varying types of nightmares is because I don’t find Little Nightmares to be fear-inducing. That’s fine, of course, as I don’t think that’s what developer Tarsier Studios was going for with this game. But if Little Nightmares is anything, it’s weird; not scary — and that’s not a bad thing.
There’s an undeniable indie charm emanating from Little Nightmares, despite the fact that it hails from a major AAA publisher. From its unique concept to its visuals to its control scheme, everything feels like a high-end indie game.
Little Nightmares does a lot of things really well. While not actually frightening, its otherworldly characters are well conceptualized, and they’re each ugly and punishing enough to make gameplay interesting. The game plays, for all intents and purposes, like a long game of hide and seek, with you, as a nine-year-old named Six, attempt to stay undetected by a nightmarish janitor, twin Chefs, and the Lady, the leader of the nightmare’s world (known as the Maw).
You’ll traverse through various rooms, solving puzzles as you go in certain rooms that require you to do so before continuing. As far as the puzzles themselves are concerned, they’re mostly simply designed, and you shouldn’t have any issues figuring them out on your own without having to look up a how-to guide. If anything, the puzzle elements are too simple and expected, albeit well-executed and fun to complete.
The game has some verticality to it as well, as you’ll climb up bookshelves, doors, crates, and other elements to get where you need to go to advance in the game. Platforming elements are, again, simple but fun. The world around you is much bigger than normal, and it’s an element of the game that really makes you feel like you’re a nine year-old looking at the big things around you. Sure, it’s to the nth degree, but that’s what helps to make this world as enjoyable as it is.
World design is the game’s strongest element, as Little Nightmares feels wholly unique in that respect. There are some really cool moments in the game that are entirely driven by the oddness of the environment and its characters, like a shoe-covered floor that you’ll have to sort of swim through to a sweaty-looking chef’s kitchen. Place a normal-looking chef in the same environment, and the game would be forgettable. However, because it’s a hideously ugly man-baby chef thing, it’s a memorable image that will stick with you.
As you make your way to leave the Maw, the game’s mood gets darker and darker. Even in its short runtime — roughly 3 hours — you’ll notice a much darker tone in its last half hour than in its first. There are some tense moments, and you can feel your stomach tightening and the angst growing as you keep pushing forward.
Little Nightmares also runs like a dream, as there were no graphical hiccups or framerate issues to be found (at least, on the PC version we tested).
Little Nightmares‘s biggest flaw is that it’s not as nightmarish as we might have hoped, and its simple gameplay doesn’t make up for that shortcoming. I could have seen the horror element of this turned up a few notches to appeal to a different sort of crowd, making it another type of game entirely. But what’s here is great, and with its unique story, easy-to-digest narrative, and gorgeously-designed world, Little Nightmares contains a lot to chew on — despite its shortness.
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