by Matthew Thompson
I like to think I keep myself fairly well apprised of upcoming video game releases and yet somehow Little Nightmares slipped past my radar. It actually appeared on my Most Anticipated Games list a couple of years back when it was known as Hunger, but between the name change and the passage of time it eluded me on release. Late in 2017, I spotted the familiar cover art while browsing GameFly and was able to put the game through its paces early on in 2018. In the process, I uncovered one of the underrated gems of last year.
Little Nightmares which was developed by Tarsier Studios – mostly known in the past for their contributions towards various Media Molecule IPs – reminds me a lot of Playdead’s games Limbo and Inside. Like those games, it is a cinematic platformer viewed from a side-scrolling perspective. Like them, it uses clever puzzles to compliment solid platforming with some stealth aspects mixed in. It features similar minimalistic storytelling. It thrives on its dark atmosphere and frightening scenarios peppered with the occasional brutal death sequence to greet players’ upon their missteps much like Playdead’s titles. It even stumbles in the same way, its biggest fault being the sometimes trial-and-error nature baked into its game design. Whether Little Nightmares was inspired by the likes of Limbo (Inside’s release seems too late to even be an inspiration) or not, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities. Given that it succeeds in similar ways to those critically acclaimed games, it isn’t a damning comparison in any way.
In Little Nightmares, you are tasked with escaping The Maw, a strange vessel where nightmarish figures look to make you their next meal. The environments, which include disturbing takes on a dollhouse and a kitchen, help the game standout as do the horrifying designs of your opposition throughout this creepy adventure. These things are all uniquely Little Nightmares and help differentiate it from the aforementioned Playdead titles as does the space to move along the z-axis. Despite being viewed from the side, there is a good amount 3D space to play in which I loved. The controls are simple but tight. Exciting chase sequences help the platforming shine while intelligent puzzle designs make you feel smart. One puzzle that immediately comes to mind finds you making a chain of sausage links to swing across a gap and you can imagine the implications given the game’s synopsis. It also demonstrates how everything about the game fits into the dark themes and atmosphere that lie at the core of Little Nightmares’ allure.
It all comes together to create a harrowing, horror-tinged journey through a number of memorable locations. I have always appreciated Tarsier Studios’ contributions to the LittleBigPlanet series over the years and it was a treat to see what they were capable of doing when they struck out on their own. I look forward to seeing what they come up with in the future.