Game Review: Little Nightmares

Alan Stock Alan Stock
Expert Contributor
May 24th, 2017

I'm a lover of travel, photography and video games, from the UK. I have worked in the games industry and very passionate about games and their design. Never get bored of them!

Price:
Captivating

Reviewed by:
Rating:
5
On May 24, 2017
Last modified:May 24, 2017

Summary:

A dark, atmospheric and immersive adventure, full of memorable moments. Design frustrations and lacklustre puzzles stop this reaching the heights of bedfellows Limbo and Inside - but this is still a captivating experience.

Price:
Captivating

Reviewed by:
Rating:

5
On May 24, 2017
Last modified:May 24, 2017

Summary:

A dark, atmospheric and immersive adventure, full of memorable moments. Design frustrations and lacklustre puzzles stop this reaching the heights of bedfellows Limbo and Inside - but this is still a captivating experience.

MORE NEWS FROM THE WEB

Little Nightmares is a dark platform/adventure game out now on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Alan Stock dodges long, grasping fingers to bring you this review for ComiConverse.

Game Review: Little Nightmares

Little Nightmares, by Danish developers Tarsier Studios, is something of a rarity. It’s hard to think of side-scrolling games which convey horror or creepiness, but in Little Nightmares they’ve pulled it off. Interestingly, two other side-scrollers which also succeed at hitting that tricky balance have clearly influenced Little Nightmares. They are the critically acclaimed games Limbo and Inside.

The creators of those seminal titles, developers Playdead, are in Sweden - just across the pond from Tarsier Studios. In interviews though, Tarsier have said they haven’t set out to copy Playdead’s work. “I guess you could say we share similar interests - perhaps it's a Nordic thing - but how we choose to realise them is very different”. Indeed, Little Nightmares has its own unique style, but anyone who’s played Limbo or Inside will immediately feel at home.

Credit: Tarsier Studios

Little Nightmares Exploring the Maw

The three games share many things in common - on paper they sound almost exactly the same. In them all, you play as a lone, vulnerable child trying to escape a dark, hostile, side-scrolling environment. You complete platforming sections and solve puzzles to progress. Death is quick and brutal. Significant portions of the game are spent running or hiding from horrible monsters.

The atmosphere in these games is very strong, in each there’s a memorable art style, amazing lighting and immersive sound design. They all have no on-screen display, nothing to break the fourth wall. The stories are left deliberately ambiguous, with no text or dialogue to provide guidance - leaving you to draw your own conclusions and ponder over the symbolism and endings of the games. Playdead has used this formula to great effect. But although Little Nightmares might look and feel just like a Playdead game, fortunately Tarsier’s strong vision and story differentiate it enough from its Swedish brethren. This is more than just a copycat game.

 

Story continues below

Little Nightmares in prison cage

Credit: Tarsier Studios

You start Little Nightmares imprisoned in the bowels of what seems to be a huge ship. In a great touch, the whole environment slowly yaws from side to side throughout the game. You play as a very small child wearing a yellow raincoat - you are dwarfed by the oversized environment around you. Household objects like doors and chairs become obstacles in themselves, nooks and crannies offer hiding places. A trusty lighter and plenty of platforming help you to navigate this dark, atmospheric place.

Although at first glance, the graphical style looks like a family-friendly game (indeed Tarsier have worked on franchises like Little Big Planet and Tearaway), they’ve taken that flavour of art style and given it a morbid twist. This is a world of childhood storybook nightmares, immediately reminiscent of the twisted creations of Guillermo del Toro or Tim Burton. As you explore the vessel, known only as “the Maw” in the game’s promotional material, you’ll encounter a menagerie of horrible people and creatures. Most of these don’t take kindly to a child wandering their halls...

Little Nightmares hiding from chef monster

Credit: Tarsier Studios

The dark tone of Little Nightmares is spot on. Great lighting and graphics with the distinctive art style bring the dripping Maw to life, and its terrible denizens. The sound design is a triumph, everything in the game sounds real, from the patter of your footsteps and the squelching of leeches, to the wind echoing through the vast open spaces of the vessel’s hull. Music is subtle and only occasionally crops up, adding to the creepy vibe or stabs of terror at the just the right moments before fading away. Atmosphere is built through moody environments, attention to small details, good pacing of scares and ominous foreshadowing of horrors to come.

But it’s in the character design that Tarsier has excelled in creating something compellingly awful. The nightmarish people and creatures inhabiting the Maw are truly creepy, grotesque and disturbing. The way they look, move and sound is stomach-turning. Although I can’t call the game an outright horror experience, it definitely has its moments and frequently creeped me out. Instilling these kind of emotions in a game from a side-on perspective is quite an achievement. This kind of atmosphere usually only works in 1st and 3rd person games, because they make you feel like you are in the action - here you don’t need to be looking through the character’s eyes for it to chill your bones.

Little Nightmares hiding from long armed Janitor monster

Credit: Tarsier Studios

As you navigate the hazards of the Maw you’ll often be avoiding the monsters’ horrible clutches, either by running away or hiding in small spaces. These are some of the best moments in Little Nightmares, inducing a real sense of panic as you try to escape. The game is full of imaginative and memorable scenes featuring the monstrosities that stalk you throughout the game. Unfortunately their effect is lessened if you repeatedly fail escape sequences, when horror gives way to irritation.

The rest of the gameplay is made up of fairly simple platforming and puzzles. Your character has a loose, floaty feel to control, which doesn’t help when combined with the forced perspective. Instead of being locked to one axis, you can move around in the 3D space of the world, yet the camera remains fixed looking at you side-on. This makes perception of depth difficult, which can be frustrating when trying to line up precise jumps. Many times I fell off the edge of ledges and stairs which should have been a doddle to climb, and platforming at the back of the screen is especially problematic.

Little Nightmares carrying object in bedroom

Credit: Tarsier Studios

The lack of an on-screen display really helps to immerse you - no handholding is provided in Little Nightmares, you are left to figure out controls by yourself. Mechanics are introduced through experimentation, instead of on-screen tutorials. It’s a refreshing change from the norm. You have the ability to grab and climb almost anything with a suitable surface, and the game has good physics, which are used in a number of puzzles. Unfortunately though, this freedom can also lead to annoyance. It’s sometimes unclear whether you’re taking the wrong approach, or just failing to grasp the game’s loose mechanics and woolly movement. Perhaps, you think, you’re not climbing the right stack of books or shelves. Or maybe that big jump is really possible and you’re grabbing at the wrong moment. Or maybe you’re failing to throw a physics object in just the right way to hit a switch. The lack of in-game hints is welcome, but at times you wish there were more - when you’re scratching your head in an area, unsure whether it's you or the game that’s really at fault.

Little Nightmares climbing bedroom drawers

Credit: Tarsier Studios

The penalty for failure - whether from falling, being caught by a monstrosity, or a myriad of other grisly fates - is instant death. That’s fine, it worked in Limbo and Inside, but in Little Nightmares design issues spoil the flow of the game and cause frustration. For a start, there are loading times between deaths, compared to the instant restarts of Playdead’s games. Secondly, checkpoints are inconsistent in their placement, sometimes forcing you to repeat annoying, long sections where the hardest part is right at the end. Frequently under time pressure (like being chased), it’s unclear what your objective is or you’ll have to solve a puzzle. These factors combine to make some parts of the game a patience-testing chore of trial and error - with every failure punished by death and having to repeat that section again and again.

Little Nightmares hanging man

Credit: Tarsier Studios

When you soldier past these and the game flows, Little Nightmares is great. Puzzles aren’t usually taxing, and aside from the aforementioned frustrations, it’s not too difficult overall. There are only minor secrets to find (which don’t seem to affect the story), but making your way through the linear environment is a dubious joy as you discover new areas and their resident horrors. The Maw’s interiors are intriguing, ever deepening the game’s constant mysteries about where you are, who you are, and just what is going on in this sinister place.

The gameplay is occasionally interrupted by story snippets which are very short but effective, raising even more questions. Little Nightmares wraps up with a brilliantly memorable series of events and set-pieces. The game’s not long, taking around 4-5 hours, but despite the hiccups I mentioned, I was enthralled throughout. Even though the gameplay isn’t too involved, I was driven ever onwards, through a sense of curiosity about what’s was coming next, and a desire to uncover more of the story. I ended up playing the whole game in just one day. Ultimately, I liked the open-to-interpretation story and it’s ending, although I know some people would have preferred a more concrete explanation of events.

Story continues below

Little Nightmares hiding from chefs washing dishes

Credit: Tarsier Studios

 

I can forgive Little Nightmare’s flaws for its many stand-out moments and the level of imagination I found in the Maw’s depths. It’s a very well realised and polished artistic vision, albeit a really dark and twisted one. You won’t forget some of the encounters in this game - which are up there with the best moments of Inside. It’s a shame that the cleverness on show in these doesn’t extend to the puzzles and platforming, but as an immersive children’s nightmare it succeeds on every level. I heartily recommend you give it a try and “enjoy” the dripping, dank world of Little Nightmares. I’m looking forward to seeing what the dark minds of Tarsier Studios will produce in future, hopefully with more refined gameplay next time around.

Little Nightmares

  • 5

Captivating

A dark, atmospheric and immersive adventure, full of memorable moments. Design frustrations and lacklustre puzzles stop this reaching the heights of bedfellows Limbo and Inside - but this is still a captivating experience.

(Visited 67 times, 1 visits today)

ComiConverse with us...

Yes No