Little Nightmares ReviewPrice:
I suspect that Little Nightmares will do very well for itself given how closely it resembles the overwhelmingly popular platform games of Playdead.Inc. Like 2009’s Limbo and last year’s Inside, Little Nightmares places you in control of a small child in a world that is simultaneously stunning and repulsive and has you solving a smattering of simple puzzles and occasionally being chased by something utterly horrible. Depending on your point of view, this may either be its strongest asset or its greatest flaw.
Personally, I land somewhere in the middle. I think the artistic style is fabulously grotesque, and although its horror didn’t exactly frighten me, it certainly left me feeling uneasy and with a desire to take a long bath in something hot and mildly acidic. But I was also desperately hoping that Tarsier Studios would bring something new to Playdead’s interactively lightweight formula, and sadly it doesn’t. At all.
Apparently Little Nightmares puts you in control of a girl called Six, exploring a hideous world of brutal industry and grotty opulence named the Maw. I only know this because I read the Steam blurb; the game itself doesn’t tell you anything about either of these two things. Weirdly, the blurb also tells you what the Maw’s true identity is, which I found strange because personally I would class it as a spoiler.
As with Playdead’s games, Little Nightmares is almost entirely devoid of exposition. All the information about the world is communicated visually, and even that only provides a slice of the broader picture. That said, I do think Little Nightmares has more thematic clarity than either Limbo or Inside, with an obvious juxtaposition between hunger and gluttony and what those things can lead people to do in their extremes.
Initially, though, you’ll probably just be bowled over by the truly astonishing artistry on show. I genuinely struggle to liken it to something else. The closest thing I can think of is the stop-motion animation of Laika, producers of films like Coraline and the Boxtrolls. It blends highly realistic lighting with a strong emphasis on caricature. Indeed, the entire game vaguely resembles a top-tier Claymation, from the dollhouse-structure of each room to the slightly doughy look of objects and characters.
Little Nightmares also bears similarity to Laika’s animations in its creepiness. Yet whereas Laika’s weirder edge is softened to make it suitable for children, Little Nightmares goes all-out to make its world feel downright wrong. From the skittering animation of the gnome-like creatures whom you encounter to the way the soundtrack is infused with warped nursery-rhyme chanting, everything about the game is tilted in such a way that makes it deeply unsettling. What’s more, the horror becomes gradually more overt as the game progresses, seeing you being chased by creatures with freakishly long arms before moving on to areas that are truly gross in ways I won’t spoil for you. I will say this, though: You’ll never look at shoes or sausages in the same way again.