In many ways Little Nightmares is a leap into the unknown for Tarsier Studios. This is a relatively small Swedish studio but it clearly has some big ambitions as it attempts to push the boundaries by releasing not one but two games this week, which is really impressive. The first is Statik, a PlayStation VR puzzle game and now we’re tearing the wrap off Little Nightmares, a 3D puzzle platformer described as a ‘suspense adventure’ by the game developers.
Having previously worked on LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway Unfolded this game marks a change in mood for the studio, a transition from bright, colourful environments to more dark and sobering ones. It’s a seismic shift, a brave move which deserves credit, but can they pull it off?
What's It About?
In Little Nightmares (originally titled ‘Hunger’) you take on the role of Six, a bite-size 9-year-old girl who is trapped inside her own nightmares. This world is called The Maw and it’s truly frightening.
Armed only with a small petrol lighter, she emerges from a suitcase and immediately feels out of place here. She’s wearing a bright yellow raincoat that contrasts heavily against her grey, grim surroundings. You immediately feel a connection to the child who is trapped in this terrible situation. She must now navigate her way through this dark dreamworld, solving puzzles and evading inexplicably daunting enemies along the way.
For Six, two things are key in Little Nightmares – her hunger and her survival.
The main objective of the game is to overcome obstacles, sneak your way past the unsuspecting residents of The Maw and to feed your hunger, which strikes at set intervals. It’s a constant game of cat and mouse that will get your heart racing. The game is perfectly paced in order to give you a breather when you need one, but also ramps up the pressure and gets your adrenaline pumping in order to thrill you.
The Finer Detail
The game soundtrack, composed by Tobias Lilja is filled with eerie melodies. It’s a series of creepy lullabies which stalk Six the whole way along her journey. It’s the perfect accompaniment to the visual aspect of the game.
Platformers have come a long way since the early days of the original Super Mario Bros. and Castlevania. The genre has matured wonderfully and Little Nightmares is a great example of that progression. Other recent examples include Inside, Limbo and Unravel, and there’s echoes of each of those titles here, but it feels like Tarsier has taken things a little step further.
The models, textures and lighting all look excellent and the physics are great too. An incredibly strong art style and art direction make this a beautiful, memorable game and unique in it’s own right.
The gameplay feels innovative, challanging and polished. There is a small layer of frustration as you may have to die a number of times before you finally progress to the next phase of the game. This goes with the territory though and its equally matched by the rewarding sense of achievement when you do overcome a challenge.
Load times were around 30-40 seconds on an Xbox One S using an external hard drive, this may be reduced by playing the game from the internal storage or an SSHD. We only encountered an obvious drop in framerates once during our play through.
The control scheme is quite simple but I did feel like your actions didn’t always correspond perfectly to the movement you expected in the game, particularly when balancing from a ledge and trying to reach another point, but this was a very minor issue.
There are some lovely touches included too however. While using your petrol lighter you can move the right analogue stick and Six will swing her little arm toward that direction to illuminate the previously dark space. It may seem like a small thing but these touches are well thought out and show a high level of polish overall.
Little Nightmares will make your skin crawl and give you an itch inside your stomach. As the story unfolds it will keep you guessing and even beyond the ending it will still leave you with plenty to piece together. You’re encouraged to draw your own conclusions on the horrifying, confusing events you’ve witnessed inside The Maw.
If you want a dark, intoxicating adventure then Little Nightmares is perfect for you. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of the genre it’s a great game which will offer you around 5 hours of play. Everything feels well-rounded and polished which gives you the impression a lot of time has been spent perfecting this game.
It’s also reasonably priced which is another great reason to pick up a copy. The Collector’s Edition is also available and includes a 10cm Six figure, soundtrack, stickers and poster.