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Little Nightmares

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: BANDAI NAMCO Games America, Inc.
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Platformer/ Survival Horror/ Stealth

Graphics & Sound:

Little Nightmares attempts to crack into the nascent genre that Danish studio Playdead essentially perfected. That genre? Technically, itís horror platformer, but more specifically, itís child-in-peril horror platformer. The success of games like Limbo and Inside are warranted; after all, most of our deepest and most primal fears develop during childhood, and though we are generally able to keep them buried, they still surface from time to time. Little Nightmares succeeds at replicating the atmosphere and uncompromising tension of a Playdead game, but at the same time, itís very much its own thing.

Thereís a certain surrealism thatís inherent to dreams that we take for granted. The brilliance of that line from Inception comes to mind: "Dreams feel real while weíre in them. Itís only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." The strangeness of the world of Little Nightmares is readily apparent from the off, but at the same time, thereís a familiarity to everything that ultimately enhances the fear factor. A lot of the imagery is exaggerated, but it mostly remains grounded. Between the surrealism and the smart use (or more specifically, non-use) of lighting, the world of Little Nightmares could never be mistaken for a pleasant place. Cinematic flairs such as Dutch angles and smart shadow use deepen the tension to almost unbearable levels, and as for the other inhabitants of The Maw, I only have one word: nope.

This extends to the game's audio, which matches the alternately macabre and overtly frightening visuals every step of the way. Everything about Little Nightmares just sounds... wrong. In the best sense of the word. Industrial ambience pervades most of the game, and for a very good reason that I will not divulge. As scary as the enemies look, they sound even worse. They don't sound like monsters, per se. They sound like grotesque exaggerations of sick people. When they spot you, their shrieks sound like something that could maybe come from a human being; albeit an extremely deformed, diseased one. As unsettling as the sound of Six's rapidly-beating heart may be, the wheezing, labored breathing of her enemies is far, far worse.


Gameplay:

Nightmares are weird, but Iíve always been puzzled by the way society looks at them. In my experience, the connotations they carry are often associated with children and their fears. When I was a kid, my nightmares rarely had anything to do with monsters or things out to do me personal harm. Instead, they were things that would never have scared me when I was awake, yet easily triggered an intense fight-or-flight response in my subconscious. Now that Iím an adult, my nightmares are rooted in realism, and thus far more terrifying than anything my mind could have come up with when I was young.

So maybe I canít relate when it comes to the premise of Little Nightmares, and frankly, Iím glad I canít. Youíre Six, a little girl clad in a yellow, hooded raincoat (seems someoneís excited for the upcoming adaptation of Stephen Kingís It). Six is unfortunate enough to find herself in The Maw, where certain things that escape the pull of the darkness resemble things that might exist in reality, but just out of eyeshot lay horrors that surely never could.

When youíre trapped in a nightmarish realm filled with hazards both mundane and arcane, inanimate and animate, what do you do? You get the hell out. That premise drives Little Nightmares from beginning to end. You never feel welcome. You never feel at ease. You never feel safe. So you advance through this hellscape, suffering horrific encounter after horrific encounter, until you reach the end.


Difficulty:

Little Nightmares is a game that is, for the most part, built to be completed; it is far more concerned with exposing the player to as many horrific scenarios as possible than it is with actually delivering an experience that hinges on its actual gameplay. As such, Little Nightmares isnít terribly difficult. You may get hung up on particular sequences from time to time, but thatís normal for this subgenre.

Sometimes, however, the platforming gets pretty bad; I'll explain in detail later. Additionally, the controls aren't the smoothest; Six doesn't always do what you want her to do, which can lead to some unfair deaths. But as long as you take your time and carefully examine each area, you'll have a good idea of what you need to do, as well as how exactly to do it.


Game Mechanics:

Little Nightmares goes the distance to ensure that you feel like the odds are stacked against you throughout the entirety of its relatively short length. Six is no more than a frightened, hungry child, and you share in that suffering the whole way through. She can't fight the horrors of The Maw; all she has is her wit and her diminutive size. So while the doors, traps, and assorted mechanisms are built for the hulking monstrosities that inhabit The Maw, she's generally capable of using them to her advantage. It's a messy, disheveled place; certain things you might initially pass off as trash might come in useful, and objects can be manipulated in simple enough ways to help Six advance. Buttons, switches, levers, all that good stuff is here in some capacity, and the object of most of the game is to make use of all of these instruments while avoiding practically every other bit of sentient life in the area.

Stealth is a huge part of Little Nightmares. Six can get low and slow when she needs to, but the environment ensures that you need to be smart about the routes you take. The Maw feels like it's falling apart, and even the lightest footfalls can make enough noise on certain surfaces. Luckily, if you screw up, there are several hiding places you can bolt to. Of course, there's no guarantee that those hiding places will totally conceal you from your enemy's watchful gaze...

While Limbo and Inside make exclusive use of the X and Y axes, Little Nightmares sparingly incorporates the third dimension into its platforming. This helps set it apart from those games, but it also hurts it. You see, one of the game's greatest strengths is in its sense of perspective. Six is unbelievably tiny in comparison to nearly everything else, and the influence she's able to wield over her environment is almost zero. This opens the door for some really amazing moments in which the developer is able to really hammer home that sense of perspective; basically that of an insect in a world of bloodthirsty giants. But it also results in some pretty awful moments, too. A handful of seemingly low-stakes platforming sequences remove the third dimension from your perception, but not the gameplay mechanics. Six can be running along a narrow platform that's parallel to the camera, but even though you only see a flat plane, that's not what it is. These problems don't come up terribly often, but when they do, the game suffers for it.

In the end, Little Nightmares is a fantastically effective horror game. Its presentation is outstanding, and from a gameplay standpoint, its strengths outweigh its flaws. As most horror experiences go, it's definitely not for everybody, but it will satisfy even the most jaded of genre buffs.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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