Without really knowing what I was getting myself in for, I agreed to play Little Nightmares based on its appearance, and aren’t I so glad I did! Simply put, Little Nightmares sees you escaping rooms by outsmarting your captors. But this game deserves much more than that.
Visuals are important in any video game, but when gameplay only lasts around 6 hours, you really expect them to make an impact. In Little Nightmares you play as Six, a small child in a bright yellow coat. It didn’t seem to matter, but the brightness of the yellow coat did make me consider how impractical it was for hiding.
Come on, if you’re trying to sneak by without being seen a bright yellow garment isn’t going to help!
You start in a dark room, instantly giving you the contrast of light and dark, good and bad. You assume the role of the victim of the situation evading the enemy. As you work your way through The Maw, the ocean facility setting, there’s a sense of the uncanny – a common feature of the horror genre. Rooms are familiar, you run through bedrooms, a kitchen, a bar etc. but the environments are strange. Everything is distorted and sinister, accommodating the figures that instantly kill you, should you be discovered. The aesthetics of Little Nightmares are powerful tools in this silent game, leaving your imagination to figure out what’s going on based on just what you can see. I won’t reveal any spoilers, but the use of visuals in place of a spoken and/or written story are impactful right to the very end.
As you venture through Little Nightmares you have to guide Six across various rooms, hiding and running. Game mechanics in Little Nightmares are relatively simple as you walk, run, jump, hold and throw objects from one side of the room to another, but that’s where the puzzles come in. While in some rooms your patience and timing is rewarded, on other occasions you cannot afford to dawdle. The various ‘creatures’ with crazily long arms or bloated bodies, require you to figure out the environment to get past them. The great fun had in Little Nightmares is the suspense of almost being caught. I played on a PS4 and the controller would even rumble when a creature came near. For a moment you feel suspended, trapped almost, having to wait and see whether your hiding spot conceals or reveals you. Some levels were a case of just running for dear life, but it’s the slower levels that really engage with players.
What I will say about Little Nightmares, however, is that, while it’s a short game that left me wanting more, there were already stronger and weaker levels that were at risk of repeating or feeling too similar to others. Whether it was the design of the creature in that level, or the degree of difficulty or suspense, some chapters were more inspired than others. At times I was almost rushing through to get to what I hoped would be another good chapter. One such occasion is when Six is hungry. When Six gets hunger pangs, you are powerless to do anything about it, until you can. It almost feels pointless and it’s frustrating every time Six stops with hunger. As you progress through the game the hunger feels more poignant, even if slow and relatively passive.
Little Nightmares left me wanting more as its speechless story evoked curiosity and confusion in place of satisfaction. Even if I initially thought it was a simple case of good and evil play hide and seek, Little Nightmares takes players on a much more puzzling journey, both in play and story. This short puzzle platformer is definitely worth a play, just remember to hold your nerve as you hold your breath waiting, for death to pass.