As a child, I used to love horror. In fact, one of my favourite things as a child was the Goosebumps series of novels and their television adaptations that I would religiously watch after school. It seems, however, that as the years have gone by my tolerance for horror has dwindled, and the things that should have scared me as a child now challenge me as an adult. Needless to say, Little Nightmares has scared the hell out of me (and this is me holding stronger feelings back!). There is only one perfect way to sum this up: if Tim Burton and R. L. Stine decided to make a game, this would have been their child. Tarsier Studios, you have my utmost respect for creating this terrifying masterpiece!
Game: Little Nightmares
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment Europe
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
Little Nightmares is a dark and whimsical tale focused around a single protagonist, a 9-year old little girl named Six. You find yourself on The Maw, a mysterious contraption that I can only best describe as a horrific version of Howl’s Moving Castle under the sea…at least on the outside. Inside, lurking in the shadows and roaming the many rooms are the guests, monstrous, grotesque, and sweaty corrupted souls looking for their next meal, and it could be you! It’s time to face your childhood fears; embrace your inner child, unleash your imagination and help Six escape through this daunting dollhouse to reach The Above and gain freedom!
The phrase “silence is golden” could not be more wrong yet so right when it comes to the sound design in Little Nightmares. Far above gameplay and even graphics, the sound is phenomenal; it’s literally breathtaking! There are few full tracks to be heard, but my god do they give me the creeps enough to make me wish they weren’t there at all! Tarsier have turned the mundane, harmless chimes of musical children’s toys into a haunting existence that evokes the life and fear in this twisted environment. The silence…the silence is both a blessing and a curse, and it is this ambience which makes Little Nightmares absolutely terrifying yet utterly exhilarating. Water trickling from a shower head, the whirring of a fan, a creaking door… Whilst these simple things may not seem scary to you now, place yourself in a dark, silent and lonely room and the atmosphere will quickly change. Little Nightmares plays around a childhood theme, the innocence and their view of the world, bringing back personal memories. I remember as a child, I would be too scared to turn off my light at night, and the mere sound of a creaking door or a dripping tap would send shivers down my spine… These are the emotions that are brought back into light; as I quietly tried to sneak through a room, the floorboard creaked and my heart sank as a chill took over.
I’m afraid the graphics do little lighten the mood, both literally and in a good way. If the style feels familiar, that would be because Tarsier also worked with Media Molecule developing titles such as LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway Unfolded, which is evident in the design of the games many platform environments. Little Nightmares is not a pleasant world, it’s pretty grim, with a pallid colour pallet that only enhances your bleak situation. (Though the blood streaks can really make a room pop!) It’s obvious that your little vibrant yellow raincoat is meant for a happier place. For the time being, however, you will often find yourself in the depths of darkness, and the only way to illuminate your path will be with the flick of your lighter. (Why does a child have such a thing!?) The ambient lighting is remarkable and instils both dread and relief; it really has been lovingly crafted. When there is light, and even amidst the shadows, the environments are overflowing with detail in every nook and cranny. Even the subtle swaying and movement in the objects remind you that The Maw is at sea. The characters themselves are grotesque and deformed, a stark comparison to your small, cute but frail frame. I’m sure these guys will soon disturb my dreams…Just one look and I shudder. For those who like the technical details, Little Nightmares runs on a good 30 FPS with smooth transitions and loading times on a regular PS4. Players on a PS4 Pro can expect a stable 60 FPS 70% of the time and a native resolution of 1620p.
So “what can I expect from the gameplay?” you may ask. This is the tricky part. Let me start off by saying that this is a horror adventure platformer, riddled with puzzles and obstacles to overcome. It’s the most terrifying game of hide and seek imaginable. You must use stealth, logic and your imagination to hide, run and find your way through each room to reach The Above. There is so much that I would love to share with you, but I must hold myself back as there are simply too many ways in which I could spoil your experience, and trust me, you don’t want that!
The game has simple mechanics that are revealed as you explore the first few rooms and much does not change after that. Despite its simplicity, don’t let it fool you; it is how you apply these mechanics in each environment along with your imagination that makes the game challenging (along with finding the courage to go on!). Little Nightmares is incredibly tactile. Most of everything you see can be moved, thrown, smashed or climbed, and analysing your surroundings and utilising objects is crucial to your survival and progression. For the most part, a quick examination of the room will reveal which path you need to take, but how to reach it will often require your inner child’s imagination. Unfortunately, not all rooms allow this respite. The many denizens of The Maw are greedy, from the twin chefs to the crawling leeches, all are waiting for their opportunity to dine on you. As a child, all you can do is run away, hide and use your small size in this dollhouse prison to your advantage. There is no direct form of attacking, but that doesn’t mean to say there is no way to deal some harm along the way.
The best (and worst) part of Little Nightmares is the emotions that are aroused. The anticipation, hope, anxiety…It has been some time since a game has affected me so much! There is no telling what lies ahead, what is behind that locked door, and it is this uncertainty which fills you with dread and makes this game a true nightmare. It is for this very reason why I cannot reveal too much. I want you to make this discovery by yourself, to heighten your anticipation and let you feel the same way I have, utterly terrified! I will, however, give you some insight on what to expect. Slowly walking down a pitch black corridor with my lighter to briefly illuminate the way, suddenly this horror appears behind me, leading me to literally shriek (much to my families confusion) and run away with as much haste as I could muster. The path ahead was uncertain; I didn’t know what to expect, where I could go once I got there, and my heart was pounding rapidly, I kid you not! This was only made worse by the sound of Six’s heart beating as fast as mine, along with the pulsating vibrations of my DualShock controller in rhythm to the heartbeat. Upon reaching safety, I had to stop. My head hurt (possibly from a rise in blood pressure), my heart needed a rest and I just couldn’t find the courage to continue on. After regaining my composure (and calling in my brother for company to avoid being alone) I continued on. This same heart-pounding situation repeats throughout, and I have experienced my fair share of deaths, respawning at the last checkpoint. It truly is a dark and sinister game. Death can come in many forms, from a miss judged leap with a bone crippling fall to capture and the inevitable consumption. Tragic little Six really has to go through so much in her frail state; you can’t help but bear with the terror to help her get out!
Little Nightmares is the creepiest and most grim experience I have had in a long while. It truly is the most terrifying game of hide and seek imaginable! It may seem simple, but it is exceptionally ingenuitive and the most emotionally provocative experience, that despite it petrifying me, I am absolutely enamoured by it. It may only last a single play through experience, but with an RRP of just £19.99 and a lovely collectors edition at £29.99, you really need to have this. It is worth all the horror!