Tarsier has got talent in spades, there’s no question about that. Yet while aesthetically Little Nightmares is hugely imaginative, interactively it’s fairly humdrum. You move from left to right, and occasionally right to left, solving the odd physics-based puzzle here, evading a few unmentionable horrors there. There are a couple of things it does slightly differently from other games of its ilk. For starters, it technically plays in full 3D, with you able to move around rooms in all directions. But this has little impact upon the act of play. In addition, there are a few soft stealth sections where you must evade enemies as they wander about a room, but again these are more stealth puzzles than dynamic events. The moment you’re caught, it’s game over, and you must restart from the last checkpoint.
Otherwise, I found Little Nightmares to be frustratingly simplistic. Even at its most involved, the game requires no more than two or three steps to solve a puzzle, and it’s all stuff we’ve seen done before – push an object around to create a platform, find a key for the door, and so on. There are some nice touches, though. There was a neat little puzzle involving a bathroom mirror that reveals a small yet deeply disturbing environmental detail. But structurally they lack the subtle ingenuity of the likes of Inside, and I never felt like there was enough to get my teeth into.
This is also worth noting: Little Nightmares is very short, two to three hours at the most, and that includes getting stuck on the odd environmental puzzle. I don’t mind the brevity in and of itself; the problem is the game doesn’t evolve enough within that timeframe. It takes a good half hour to get going, which is a fair chunk of its brief running time, but more importantly it never finds a way to build upon the simplistic jumping and grabbing game it starts out as.
In fact, there was a point where Little Nightmares introduced a proper, honest-to-god mechanic which it used for an extended sequence, and I thought, 'Great! It’s evolving now.
' And then it ended! Turned out that new mechanic was for the final boss. And what’s annoying is it was so beautifully done, a clever and inventive little system that suddenly made the game stand out at a mechanical level. But it lasted all of five minutes, and then played the closing cutscene.
There’s one other issue I’d like to raise. It might sound strange, but the game is too damned dark. Half the time I could barely see the lavish environments the developers had produced, and there were even moments when I became stuck simply because I couldn’t see where the entrance to the next room was. I understand that Little Nightmares is a horror game, but it doesn’t need darkness, or at least the levels of darkness it often resorts to, to be creepy. In fact, it’s one of the few horror games where seeing the monsters doesn’t diminish their impact, such is Tarsier’s talent for character design.
I think, ultimately, Little Nightmares is too little for its own good. I like the concept, and in terms of artistic design it is absolutely superb. If you’re a big fan of Playdead’s work, then you’ll probably find something to enjoy here, and I imagine a lot of people will love it just for that reason. But I don’t feel there’s enough that’s new or interesting enough to offer a more general recommendation. There’s potential in Little Nightmares, but it’s got some growing up to do.