A sinister but enjoyable adventure.
Little Nightmares on PC
There’s something unsettling about watching your character being plucked from atop a shelf by a creature with incredibly long arms. Like when the monster’s hands clutch you as they pull you towards their chest, Little Nightmares brought a bunch of these uncomfortable moments, and left them branded in my mind long after the credits rolled.
Little Nightmares is a puzzle platformer in the same vein as Playdead’s Limbo and Inside. Players take control of Six, a young child in a yellow raincoat attempting to escape the sinister world known as the Maw. Unfortunately for our protagonist, she’s far smaller than the world she finds herself in and the grotesque creatures that inhabit it. If you’re to guide Six to freedom and avoid being captured, you’ll need to master the art of stealth and making little-to-no noise whatsoever.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t give you a ton to work with. Six has a lighter to guide her through dimly-lit areas or to light lanterns that act as the game’s checkpoint system, and her brains to help her navigate this labyrinth. Aside from that, you’ll just have to use what’s around you to your advantage. That means throwing toilet roll tubes at switches to open a door, using a rope of sausages to reach a distant vent, or using the full weight of Six’s body to shimmy a key off a giant peg. Its puzzle elements may never feel quite as tricky as the likes of Limbo or Inside’s, but there’s a good level of challenge here and you’ll likely die a good few times in each chapter. The sense of accomplishment when you finally overcome these puzzles, though, far outweighs the frustration that precedes it.
Controlling Six through the Maw is very much the same as how LittleBigPlanet’s Sackboy is controlled. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always translate well, with loose movements making platforming sections that require accuracy more tedious than they should be. Combined with the darkness of your environments, navigating narrow beams or just trying to see where you’ve got to leap to can be a challenge in itself. Unfortunately, the game didn’t seem to always register the buttons I was pressing, or Six simply wouldn’t grab onto a surface when she should have. At some moments, I was able to perfectly nail a sprint and jump onto a surface I could hang onto before scaling my way up. Other times, for some unknown reason, Six would only jump half as far and fall to her death, or just not grab hold of the trellis. While I don’t mind being stumped by a puzzle because I’ve overlooked a crucial component, failing a platforming section due to hit-and-miss controls tarnishes these parts of the game.
The world itself oozes with atmosphere and a sinister charm lies under the surface. Its cartoon visuals conflict with the sights to be seen in this world. Rooms filled with discarded shoes reminiscent of notorious imagery of the Holocaust, bodies hanging from nooses, and beds can be found with restraints to hold their victims in place. Little Nightmares utilizes vivid imagery to keep you on edge at all times, without leaning on over-the-top blood and gore to achieve it.
These never feel out of place, though. You’re always within an environment where the unsettling sights you see make logical sense, and that’s what makes it all the more uncomfortable. These places truly feel like nightmarish renditions of stereotypical, real-life locales.
It’s not just what Six sees as she makes her way through the Maw, though. Little Nightmares opts not to utilize eerie music as a means of upping the ante. Instead, you’re left to listen to the chilling sounds and noises of the creatures and your environment as you make your way through. This ambient noise encapsulates that sense of loneliness and “things that go bump in the night” atmosphere synonymous with children’s nightmares.
While its puzzle platforming is certainly solid, Little Nightmares shines brightest when its facing you off against one of its “bosses.” While we’re not going to go too much into these surprises, as they’re definitely one of the game’s highlights, the cat and mouse nature of these sections will have you on the edge of your seat. Due to her tiny size in comparison to these creatures, Six can nimbly dash in and out of cover, leap onto lighting fixtures, and sneak around without making a sound. Her tiny stature makes for a double-edged sword, though. If you’re spotted, you can’t defend yourself and if you’re not careful, you’ll swiftly be captured by the creature in pursuit.
Each of the game’s chapters feels distinctly different due to the enemies you face, or the environment you’re placed in. Unfortunately, the game does somewhat deteriorate in the quality of these creatures as you make your way through, with the final boss feeling particularly weak and far less aggressive than those before it. Smashing a vase in earlier chapters would have alerted the creatures to your location, in the final chapter, though, it simply resulted in the character moving elsewhere. It made little sense considering I’d been penalized by my previous pursuers for making more than a whisper. I’d even preempted their arrival, too, hiding Six under the bed just as I had in previous chapters. Even if the boss did have to move into a position, they could have at least surveyed the suspicious scene rather than ignoring it altogether.
As Six moves ever closer to freedom, the sense of desperation in order to survive and escape is further compounded. It was something that, without diving into spoilers, saw me completely change my outlook of the game’s story, and characters as I progressed.
Unfortunately, I did run into a bit of trouble when playing through Little Nightmares’ fourth chapter. Whenever I rounded a certain corner, the game crashed, sending me back to my desktop. After five times, the game did manage to overcome whatever issue was in its way, but it was a little frustrating nonetheless.
If you liked Limbo and Inside, then Little Nightmares is definitely for you. Though its puzzles may not have you stumped for quite as long, its sinister world will consume your attention throughout its five to six-hour duration. Playing cat and mouse with its boss creatures will have you on the edge of your seat as you desperately seek the next spot of refuge under cover. Had its controls been as tight as necessary for its platforming sections, and its final chapter not been so anticlimactic, Little Nightmares could have been something truly special. Nonetheless, it’s a short, eerie, and sweet experience that will linger in my mind for days to come.
Score: 3.5/5 – Fair
• Cat and mouse chases are edge of your seat stuff.
• A fascinatingly dark and sinister world to explore.
• A powerful story that keeps you thinking after the credits roll.
• Challenging but rewarding puzzle platforming.
• Disappointing and short final chapter.
• Hit-and-miss controls tarnished the experience.