Little Nightmares is a puzzle-platformer horror game developed by Tarsier Studios, a Swedish crew of creative boffins responsible for the likes of LittleBigPlanet for the Playstation Vita and Tearaway Unfolded, and available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Little Nightmares is the complete opposite to the vivid, charming and happy games they’ve put their minds too in the past, as their latest release tests your wits and fear within a dark, dangerous and terrifying world. You play as Six, a small, anorak clad prisoner who must escape from The Maw, a violent mysterious facility ran by frightening monsters and enjoyed by horrifying guests. As Six, you must sneak, hide and outsmart these monsters to avoid certain death and claim your freedom. Little Nightmares is a unique horror experience that simply doesn’t compare to anything that I’d played before, as not once did I encounter a jump scare or ferociously loud piece of music, instead the fear came from knowing where my enemy was and hoping they didn’t see me, knowing that every footstep I make can be heard, and knowing where the exit was but not knowing if I’d get there safely. This is an excellent horror game. This is a simple horror game. This is … hide and seek effectively, the most terrifying game you’ll ever play.
Fear of the unknown is an effective instrument when it comes to creating a good horror experience, however in Little Nightmares case it’s the complete opposite which is in fact a scarier tool. Being made aware of your enemy’s presence and location (along with the presumption that they can smell, see and hear everything that you’re doing), is a much more frightening payoff than anything a lame jump scare can achieve, as the latter will only last mere seconds whereas in this case your pounding heart and sweating brow will last from start to finish. As Six progresses through this torturous facility, you will come face to face with more threatening, diabolical enemies, each with their own terrifying characteristics that will make you think twice before attempting your escape. For something to be truly threatening, it needs to sound just as scary as it looks, and it’s clear that Tarsier Studios have worked exceptionally hard on their sound to achieve just that. Throughout your adventure, you won’t hear a piece of music delicately playing in the background, instead you’ll hear everything else. Literally everything else. The rusty metallic cages you’re climbing up, the tiny pitter patter from your feet, the cries of your captors, everything around you IS making a noise, including you, and if you can hear it so can those you’re trying to avoid. For my entire playthrough of Little Nightmares I was emitting nothing but anxiety and paranoia (as well as the occasional whimper), and this constant feeling of stress is something I’ve never experience in a video game before, because I’ve never played a video game like this before and I think it genuinely frightened me.
Aesthetically this game is more comparable to a playground game of Hide & Seek, but Little Nightmares is fundamentally a puzzle game. Sneaking past your enemies is one thing, distracting them to another part of the room is another, and doing both of those with a key in your hands is something entirely different. It’s fair to say that Little Nightmares’ puzzles aren’t terribly difficult, especially when compared to other critically acclaimed puzzlers on the shelf, but the game’s threat doesn’t come from the trickiness of a puzzle’s solution, but more from wondering how to proceed to the next one as quickly and as safely as possible. Whereas Little Nightmares flourishes atmospherically, some of its puzzles are a little punishing and hugely infuriating, not in difficulty mind, but in their lack of direction and assistance. Don’t get me wrong, completing Little Nightmares doesn’t require much guidance, after all the map is small and you know there’s a way out somewhere, however some parts of the game (notably defeating the longed arm monster at the end of Chapter 2) really could do with some kind of hint, especially considering you don’t have any time to investigate the area and you don’t want to solely rely on mere trial and error. It’s worth noting that this problem doesn’t occur a lot during the game, but boy when it does it it’ll really turn that fear into rage, killing that otherwise perfect momentum and tension. If you’re a completionist than you’ll no doubt be overjoyed that Little Nightmares has its own little collectables scattered throughout, however don’t expect to be told how many, how often or what exactly it is you’re looking for until you stumble across something a bit out of the ordinary, which as you can imagine in a game such as this is not that noticeable early on; again this lack of guidance proves to be nuisance as finding these collectables will reward you with beautiful and grotesque artwork that are a tremendous shame to miss out on.
Little Nightmares may face you with unforgivable, relentless enemies hungry to eat your little shiny yellow body, however it’s falling from great heights that’ll probably kill you more often. Six may only need to walk from left to right, however that doesn’t mean you’ll be walking in a straight line, and before you know it you’ve walked off that gas pipe and fallen to your death. Much like the occasional ambiguous puzzle, not being able to fully see the surface you’re walking on before succumbing to the laws of gravity will become very old very quickly, particularly because you probably did the actual hard bit with ease; the game also likes zooming out and showing off the incredible environment, which is bloody terrific, or at least it would be if you were allowed to take it all in instead of squinting at that platform you’re walking because you can’t rely on yourself to walk across it safely. These misguided camera angles are few and far between so don’t expect every delicious landscape shot to screw you over, just make sure to really take them in when you’re not running for your life because The Maw is as beautifully crafted as it is unsettling.
In short (and with a little yellow raincoat on), Little Nightmares is an incredible game and without a doubt one of the finest and most grotesque horror games ever made. If you’re after cheap thrills and jump scares then you won’t find any here, as what Little Nightmares does is turn those overused, short term horror story elements on their heads, and in doing so makes the game unpredictable and tremendously scary for the entire duration of your adventure. Speaking of duration, Little Nightmares isn’t a terribly long game clocking at between 4-6 hours, however that is by no means a bad thing, as almost every 1 of those 300 minutes I spent were hugely enjoyable and deeply chilling; I’d love more of it just as much as the next bloke, but honestly any more would have been too much. The character design is disturbing, the soundtrack is upsetting and The Maw is easily one of the most memorable gaming locations in history, so I hereby stamp this document with my unofficial “Official Essential Purchase Crest”. It’s not without its faults of course, every now and then Little Nightmares becomes a big bloody nightmare, but honestly, when 90% of the game is flawless, it really doesn’t matter because Little Nightmares is actually a little gem.