Trasier Studios and Bandai Namco have managed to do something strange and beautiful in the form of their latest, Little Nightmares.
The odd little title revolves around a young yellow raincoat clad girl named Six, who is trapped aboard The Maw, a submerged island that caters to gluttonous monsters who come aboard in droves to be catered to. The Maw, is a dark place with secrets and terrors waiting around every corner. As Six, you explore The Maw looking for a way to escape before you become part of the menu.
The platformer is something out of a Tim Burton nightmare. The environment and characters are richly developed and embody the world that is built around them. Little Nightmares is primarily a puzzle based game that has you figuring out simple brainteasers in order to get into the next area. Each level is centered and compartmentalized to a different part of The Maw and gives you a nice change of scenery and architecture as you make your way from the belly of the Maw to the upper decks.
Much like Limbo and Inside, this game takes place in a masterfully unique world that offers up very little in the form of what, where and why, instead posing new fragments of the unknown. Little Nightmares is aptly named and has a hypnotic effect that puts you in a state that is akin to that feeling you have between waking and sleeping, and firmly on the paradigm shift between dreams and nightmares.
The game is earmarked by a lot of homages to great genre cornerstones. Heavy influences from City of Lost Children imamate throughout, with character design that mirrors Freddy Krueger, Leatherface and characters from Spirited Away. Little Nightmares doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares either. The palpably addictive terror comes from the dark world that inhabits The Maw.
Little Nightmares doesn’t give you anything to fight back with; leaving you to encounter its dwellers with nothing to do but outsmart them, and play hide and seek in order to stay alive. Speaking of running, there are a few points when you will be chased that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up and cause your stomach to roll over.
The character design is beautiful and while it does borrow from a range of art and pop culture it is also uniquely belongs to itself. Characters like The Janitor who blindly dwells the deepest floors of The Maw complete with arms three times as long has his torso is pure nightmare fuel. He uses those skinny, freakishly lengthy arms to reach you while hiding in small spaces. Trying to sneak around him is hard considering his hearing is so well evolved as a side effect of his blindness. This leaves you having to figure out ways to sneak past him as the blind creature pats the floor in search of you. The protagonist Six, is adorable too. She is a character that you want to hug but, also know full well that she would take an adorable little bite out of you as a return gesture.
“…hypnotic effect that puts you in a state that is akin
to that feeling you have between waking and sleeping,
and firmly on the paradigm shift between dreams and nightmares.”
The levels are brilliantly designed and have haunting levity that goes for the throat. In one section the entire floor is covered with mountains of dis-guarded leather shoes and bags. This area was eerily reminiscent of the rooms that Nazi’s would use to dispose of peoples clothing during the horror of the Holocaust. While making your way, waist deep in shoes and baggage, something begins to move underneath them going after you, as you try to make it to solid ground without being pulled under
Intentionally, somewhat complex controls make it an anxiety inducing event to try to get away from something or to hide. By making one of the shoulder buttons have the grab functionality Little Nightmares causes your hands to shake and fumble while trying to find your way to safety. For example, if you are being chased by something, you need to remember to sprint, jump and at the right moment, hold the grab button to pull yourself to safety. I know, I know. It sounds simple, but one play-through with the game and you realize the control layout is just as much a part of the story as The Maw itself.
Little Nightmares isn’t very long but its short narrative allows for a concise and effective story, that doesn’t allow time for boredom and cuts out all the fluff in order to make it a memorable experience. I really wanted to spend more time in this world, I wanted to know more about the breathing enviroment around you, but just as quickly and as satisfying as it begins it ends. With a game that looks this great and has this level of dynamic lighting and world building, it is hard to not want to revisit it for either a second playthrough or in hopes that the dev team decides to follow this up with another Little Nightmares title. Get ready for a singular experience that really does have the power to infiltrate your dreams and maybe even turn em into nightmares… in a good way, of course.
Little Nightmares is out now for PS4, Xbox One and Steam for the awesome price of $19.99.