Release date: April 28th, 2017
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed) PS4, PC
Little Nightmares is a new project from the Swedish development studio responsible for the Little Big Planet and Tearaway series, and it couldn’t be more different than the studio’s previous titles in tone and style. Instead of choosing to follow their traditionally cute and bright titles from their history, Little Nightmares goes fully into the dark side of things, both literally and figuratively.
Most of the game takes place literally in the dark, and your character, a young girl named “Six,” has a small lighter she can use to brighten the dark areas. On the figurative side, the game takes shape as a puzzle-platformer very much in the style of games games like Limbo or Inside, with other elements from recent games like The Swapper, Oxenfree, Deadlight, and even Mark of the Ninja. One thing that sets Nightmares apart is its heavy leaning on dark and twisted European fairy tale and folk horror imagery to bring it’s creepiness to life.
Nightmares has a strong morbid sensibility, with creepy violence and events to match the darkness that is often found in the kinds of tales they used as inspiration, leaving every encounter somewhere between unsettling, scary, and disgusting, but never without a dash of wonder and mystery sprinkled in.
Using the terminology of the game’s title to its advantage, there’s also a great sense of scale here, with Six usually being much smaller than most other objects and creatures in her surroundings, making you feel quite powerless and overwhelmed, which also strengthens the tension of the game’s frequent sneaking and hiding sections.
As mentioned before, the game feels very akin to the modern classics Limbo and Inside from fellow European studio, Playdead, in the way the puzzles progress and the way the environments flow together. The puzzles are generally just challenging enough to take some experimentation to figure out, but not leave you stuck for very long, and each one feels satisfying to complete.
As you progress through the world, each room you pass through feels like a work of fairy tale art come to life, and I couldn’t resist just walking around and looking at each room for a while and taking in the gorgeous and dark art style before even attempting to solve what mystery that room had to offer me.
The animation of the enemies, characters, and environments are all bursting with character and life in their own unique way, making the world feel truly inhabited by these creatures in the best way possible. Enemies are foreboding, scary, and creepy, and all other characters have their own quirky and strange mannerisms, motions, and habits.
There are no spoken words in the game or any story that is laid out to you in words, but rather, it tells the story with imagery and music, making for a much more powerful experience where you must infer little bits of information from clues you’re given about the world and the characters, while also leaving some things to the imagination. The ending is short, but very satisfying and powerful, giving a fittingly bizarre end to this adventure after everything you’ve been through.
The only negative comment I can make about the game is that some of the camera angles can be slightly disorienting when trying to do some of the platforming sections, causing a few accidental deaths here and there, but nothing that can’t be overcome with one or two retries or just being more careful.
Much like the other games it was previously compared to, the whole game feels like more of an experience than a huge epic journey, and as such, the game will only last you around 3-5 hours on a first play, but its price point at $20 is more than fair for what a great experience it is.
I would easily say this is not to be missed for anyone who enjoys the other games I compared it to in the beginning of this review, or for anyone who likes dark European fairy tale imagery in their games. Definitely check this out on whichever platform suits you, and prepare for a great experience.