Developer: Tarsier Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platform(s): PC, XB1, PS4
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At first glance, Tarsier’s Little Nightmares may look like a sweet little platformer with a unique style that will hold back from going to the dark places it promises. No such luck for the squeamish and easily disturbed – Little Nightmares goes straight for the jugular and doesn’t pull any punches.
Set aboard The Maw, a leviathan of a ship with more dark secrets than Voldemort playing a game of Cluedo, you must guide Six to freedom through its many dingy and oppressive areas. But the passengers aren’t going to make her escape easy, from a Krueger-esque “man” with absurdly long arms to a bumbling pair of chefs. Little Nightmares has one of the most eye-catching rogue’s galleries you will come across all year.
Heavy on style, Little Nightmares looks like a beautiful nightmare, its colour palette muted yet somehow still utterly vibrant. For any fault in the game that you can point towards, its aesthetic is irresistible – I spent a lot of my time with the game just watching the weird antagonists shuffling around the ship, who appear to be at least partly inspired by the works of Munch and Tim Burton.
In terms of gameplay, Little Nightmares is admittedly a little light on the ground. It shares plenty of similarities with Playdead’s output but doesn’t produce nearly as many brain-scratching puzzles or bizarre mechanics. Six can plod along and open switches – that’s more or less it. With no way of defending herself, she’s completely vulnerable to her attackers, which ratchets up the tension to sometimes unbearable levels.
It’s in the game’s chase sequences that Little Nightmares becomes almost too much to bear. Watching as gorgeously animated monstrosities flail and wail their way towards Six is heart-pumping and every inch the horror experience – one sequence in particular is as grotesque as it is impressively detailed, countless obese passengers falling over each other to get to Six.
Little Nightmares’ drawbacks are small, but they do hold it back from reaching the next level. It’s brief, taking only a few hours to complete with little reason to return apart from collectibles. Adding to that, it unfortunately fizzles out in its final half an hour, just as it’s threatening to elevate itself and open up new scenarios. Still, what’s on offer is excellent and difficult to resist.
If you like horror games and twisted creations, Little Nightmares should be one effort from this year that you should cross off your list. Here’s an excerpt from my review:
“With minor gripes to consider, Little Nightmares is still one of the easiest recommendations I’ve ever made. Its utterly distinctive, gripping, and darker than it lets on, but it’s over much too soon, whether that’s a fault of the pacing or myself just becoming too immersed in the squalor. Even if it is going to grab you by the throat for just a few hours, Little Nightmares is one game you won’t want to shake free from.”
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