Where plenty of games paint you as some all singing, all dancing action hero, some of the best games of the last decade have gone in the opposite direction. The horror genre and a subset of indie platformers in particular have hewn towards taking power away from you, whether it’s simply putting you at a disadvantage or giving you absolutely no way to fight back and letting you die in an instant.
Little Nightmares definitely falls into the latter camp, with the diminutive little figure in her bright yellow raincoat a single little beacon of colour in an otherwise darkly depressing world. She’s hopelessly ill suited to facing the horrors of The Maw, but having been kidnapped and with just a single chance to reclaim her freedom, Six seeks to do so anyway.
One of the most powerful things about the game, which can make it all the more oppressive and horrific, is the sound. Even just the ambient hum of the world seeps into you over time, punctuated only by the little sounds of Six’s feet slapping on the floor, and the soundtrack seems to focus on adding further layers to this soundscape, as opposed to replacing it. However, there’s the truly horrible sound of metal being dragged torturously across the floor, or the all consuming chiming of dozens of grandfather clocks. I love the work that’s been done here to constantly keep you on edge.
Naturally, it goes hand in hand with the visual design, which is both dark and foreboding, and full of disturbing visual design. Six’ yellow raincoat is one of the few sources of colour, with the game largely dealing in greys, browns and the contrast of light and dark from isolated light sources. Pulling out a lighter helps to cut through the darkness, but before I’d realised I could do this, I’d already led Six straight off a precarious ledge while stumbling into the shadows.
Through the section of the game that I played, the Janitor was the main antagonist, with his eyes covered up entirely by bandages, and his stocky stature contrasting strongly with his long arms – all the better for grabbing at you with! Unable to see, he shuffles around with his rasping breaths as he chases after whatever little sounds he hears. You avoid him as best you can trying to bear that in mind, with the game’s environments providing the puzzles. Bare floorboards creak under foot, so you dash from one patch of carpet to another, or throw a wind up cymbal crashing monkey toy to lead him in one direction as you run the other.
It’s a simple and effective sequence, especially as you always have the horrible feeling that he might be waiting for you around the corner, or on the handful of occasions where you have to try and outrun him and his long, grabbing hands. One mistake and you’ll be caught, and that can make the game quite deeply frustrating at times. If you react too slowly as you see the door opening behind you while you turn the terribly loud crank for the trap door, you’re done for, if you panic and decide to make a run for it as the Janitor closes in, you’re done for. There’s trial and error to the game’s puzzles, and I hope that Tarsier get the balance right so it doesn’t feel like the game is being unfair.
Of course, the game’s look and feel will see comparisons drawn to the likes of Limbo and Inside, but I honestly don’t think its creators will mind being mentioned alongside those fantastic games. One key difference is that while you always view the game world from the side, you actually control Six in three dimensions, able to move her in and out of the scene.
Little Nightmares is definitely a game worth keeping an eye on, ahead of its release at the end of April. However, I want to share just one more little moment, and perhaps the standout unsettling and thought provoking moment for me. Heading through a vent, Six drops down into a room full of shoes, just hundreds and hundreds of shoes. It’s deeply evocative of the photos of piles of clothes gathered in the concentration camps of the Second World War, and makes you wonder just what kinds of horrors the rest of the game can contain.
Then the shoe room monster comes after you.
- Developer:Tarsier Studios
- Publisher:Bandai Namco Entertainment
- Platforms:PS4, XBO, PC
- Release Date:28/04/17