Inspired by some other great indie puzzle-platformers like Limbo and last year’s Inside, Little Nightmares is one of those delightful indie surprises you get to hear about not long before its release, which turns out to be yet another pretty good addition to 2017’s already excellent gaming catalog.
Its aesthetics are pretty similar to Inside, as it beautifully manages to tell us a pretty messed up but interesting story through imagery alone, without any type of written or spoken exposition thrown at you (ahem, Edith Finch). Does it manage to live up to its close buddy, though?
I have watched enough Looney Tunes cartoons to know how this will end…
Gameplay is pretty much what you should expect from a game like this, being mostly minimalistic and very precise. Unlike Inside, however, there is quite a focus on a grabbing button, which does actions like holding keys and levers, as well as being the button you have to press when jumping from one platform to another in order to hold to its edge if the distance is too long. Just like most of those high-quality puzzle platformers, the gameplay is pretty well-responsive, with the exception of some instances with the grabbing mechanic. You tend to get used to it quickly, however.
Thankfully, any few gameplay issues don’t hinder your experience, nor do they remove the air of danger and eeriness this game exhudes.
A more terrifying hell’s kitchen than Gordon Ramsay’s
Little Nightmares is all about its style and its atmosphere. If you thought Inside was weird enough (especially that last act), you’ll love the fact that Little Nightmares is way weirder than that from start to finish. The visuals are fantastic, and at the same time, completely haunting and bizarre, looking like they came directly from Tim Burton’s wackiest nightmares. The (sometimes too) dark environments are deliciously disturbing, as well as the enemies you encounter, pulled straight out of your deepest childhood fears.
Those enemies are one of the game’s major strengths, not only due to their grotesque looks, but also due to how they manage to mess with the player. Like in many horror games, for the most part you can’t defeat those big baddies, you constantly need to avoid letting them notice your presence, as they can easily outrun you and kill you with just one hit. This turns every single encounter with those baddies a truly terrifying experience, forcing you to look for any single element in the environment to help distract those monsters and let you escape unharmed. Add a real tense and loud heartbeat sound whenever they get close to you and there’s your recipe for videogaming tension.
Whoever designed this enemy, I love you. I also hate you
I need to give major props for the game’s story. Without trying to spoil too much for you (it’s better to know as little as possible), it’s about a little girl being trapped inside a freakish vessel trying to escape as well as dealing with survivalist themes. Honestly, the less you know, the better, just like in Inside.
I have to point out some problems with Little Nightmares, however, one of them being its load times, being insanely long for a game of its size and scope. Not only are the loading times too long when you first load the game, but they are also quite long every time you die and need to respawn. Another main gripe with the game, which isn’t related to any technical detail, is its duration. Again, just like Inside, the game is beatable in around 4 to 5 hours. There is a little bit of replayability in it with its various collectibles, but the core game is quite short, and its main experience (the story) can only be truly appreciated once.
I knew very little about Little Nightmares before playing it. I’d say it improved my experience, given the excellent narrative. Despite the quite steep pricetag for a game that’s more or less 4 to 5 hours long (it might take a bit longer if you consider looking out for all the collectibles), this is one of the best surprises of the year, so far. This is videogame storytelling done right, and a breath of fresh air on horror in this medium.
And now, if you excuse me, I’ll go take a nap. With the lights on, of course.
Also available on: PS4, Xbox One