Little Nightmares has been on the radar of many players, including myself, since it was announced two years ago with the name Hunger, but it now releases this week with a title that’s much better suited to the game.
You play as Six, a small child in a raincoat with only a lighter to help her escape the Maw, a vast vessel filled with dimly lit rooms and hideous, bloated creatures who would dump Six in a meat grinder and turn her in to dinner. The Maw has five themed sections including a playroom and a kitchen, each with its own hideous and truly nightmarish enemy, including a bloated chef who snuffles his face into slabs of meat and grotesque blind enemy with long, deformed arms, who can’t see but is sensitive to the slightest creak of a floorboard.
The game is a platformer but rather than being side-scrolling on a flat plane, you can move around the rooms as you wish, allowing you to creep in front and behind of enemies. Puzzles are usually quite simple and a little formulaic, a number of which involve finding keys for locked doors, but there are many inventive touches such as having to create a string of sausages to swing across to a ledge. By the way, the meat you are using to create the sausages? It seems to be slaughtered humans. Lovely.
The puzzles are broken up with a number of set pieces where you are being chased by enemies, or stealth sections where you have to creep past them, hiding under tables and distracting them by throwing objects. There’s always something new round the corner, although that thing is usually slimy and will do it’s very best to eat you.
The game is genuinely creepy with the rooms and corridors dimly lit and shrouded in mist. Less fortunate creatures are kept in cages or scorched to cinders, and one section finds you wading through a huge room filled with the shoes of victims, an image that recalls Nazi concentration camps, with an unseen monster swimming through the sea of footwear to try and drag Six to her death.
The Maw itself is a great character, with every room is packed full of detail and the screen is constantly, slowly, tilting from side to side as the ship rides on the waves, a feature you sometimes have to use to solve some of the puzzles. Many sections are almost pitch black, so the lighter is very welcome, and there are some great camera angles with the screen zooming out until Six is a tiny speck, climbing up steps to the next location.
Many games bill themselves as horror titles, but Little Nightmares really lives up to it’s name. Childhood traumas will come flooding back as things go bump in the night, hands burst through walls, and you creep through air vents whilse monsters cough and splutter like asthmatic smokers in the distance. As well as accurately reproducing the darkest of dreams, the game also successfully avoids clichés; there are few jump scares and a distinct lack of creepy doll heads. The game’s original title, Hunger, also plays a part, with Six curling up as she’s consumed by her own starvation and is forced to eat whatever she can find. As you might expect, that isn’t a nice slice of chocolate cake and her food is more lively, squeaking, and rat shaped.
It’s clear that Tasier have learnt a lot from their work on LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway Unfolded, and the animation for Six and other characters is excellent with plenty of little touches. The sound design also deserves a mention, with Six’s heartbeat racing and loud in the mix when in danger, accompanied by a subtle shake of the controller.
It’s hard not to talk about Little Nightmares without mentioning Playdead’s Limbo, with both games using the same premise of ‘small child getting minced at every opportunity’ and featuring physics based puzzles. As much as enjoyed Limbo, I think Little Nightmares is the better game with more to do, but like PlayDead’s title you will die and awful lot and that’s one of the two problems I have with Tarsier’s game. Checkpoints are inconsistently spaced so you might have to replay sections over and over until you find the solution, and the time taken for the game to reload after death is just the wrong side of being too long. The other problem is that controlling Six can be tricky at times. At one point you have to creep over some beams in a ceiling and it’s very easy to misjudge a step and fall to your death.
Little Nightmares is something of a minor classic. Gorgeously gross and surprisingly inventive, it creates a genuine feeling of terror and tension. It’s a bit odd to say a game that involves skipping over corpses is enjoyable, but it is, just don’t blame Tarsier if you have nightmares.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4