Little Nightmares is a perfect example of where and how you play a game making all the difference in the world.
The first time I booted up Tarsier Studios’ horror platform/puzzle game, it was in the middle of the day, in a bright open office where I was unable to fully immerse myself, nor could I even really hear the game – I came away from my first hour largely unimpressed.
I returned home that night, slid Little Nightmares into my PlayStation 4, turned the lights off and stuck my headphones in. I was instantly transported into some kind of Tim Burtonesque nightmare – a grim and moody labyrinth of spindly shadows and sinister goings on.
Simply put, the team at Tarsier Studios have created something of a masterpiece. Little Nightmares is a triumph in immersive storytelling, weaving a disturbing and occasionally genuinely shocking yarn using only the environments and some stellar sound design.
Like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Inside, and Limbo before it, Little Nightmares is one of those games that could easily be considered art – it’s only really let down by a criminally short length (about six hours) and relatively uninspired gameplay.
To get too far into the plot would kind of ruin the whole point of the game, and to be honest, I’m still trying to piece it together myself so I probably couldn’t explain it if I wanted to.
Here’s what I can say: You’ll start your adventure as a wee lass who – according to marketing materials – is called Six. A tiny figure with a distinctive yellow raincoat, Six makes her way through a disturbing gauntlet of freakish beasts, all of whom will chase you down and munch you up if you’re caught.
As you crawl, sprint, and sneak your way through gloomy corridors, nightmarish kitchens, and dingy bathrooms, you slowly, wordlessly begin to piece together for yourself information about where you are, and exactly why you might be there – everyone will have their own theories by the time the credits roll, and I suspect each one will be more unsettling than the last.
Six is (at least initially) our conduit to some form of reality in a world where we’re made to feel tiny, helpless, and constantly hunted.
Her slight animations, heavy, scared breathing, and frail frame work in stark contrast to the towering locations and hulking monstrosities that stalk her.
The game delights in reminding us almost constantly that we are entirely helpless, and that complete lack of power is what makes Little Nightmares so damn terrifying – when the music stops, or when your hear the shuffling and muttering of something coming down the hall to get you, you know all you can do is run and hide.
While the locations and Six herself are well designed, taking on the aforementioned Tim Burton vibe, the monsters themselves are what really stand out.
Bursting with disturbing personality, everything about these beasts has been designed to fuck with your mind.
From the blind Janitor, who feels around rooms for you with his terrifyingly long arms, to the final confrontation (which uses sound and the environment to absolutely fuck your mind), each will stay with you long after you’ve escaped them.
There are very few new ideas to be had in Little Nightmares, but it’s the way in which the story is told, and the atmosphere itself that’s the main attraction here.
If you’re after an innovative puzzle platformer, you’d best look elsewhere – but if you want six hours of some of the most immersive and terrifying gameplay of 2017, Little Nightmares is for you. Now, go play it so we can all talk about the ending.