If you were like us as children then you liked to “explore.” If you were attending an adult function or event, you loved to slip away from your parents and sneak into areas where you weren’t allowed, avoiding adults and keeping as quiet as possible. Little Nightmares captures that feeling really well, casting you as a mysterious, defenseless creature on a mission that takes you through some beautifully-rendered environments. Unlike our childhood excursions, Little Nightmares sends you through some really creepy areas to hide from some terrifying enemies. Little Nightmares is scary enough to keep our childhood selves in our seats next to our parents until they are ready to leave. That game is so creepy, we’re glad it’s pretty short.
Little Nightmares is the kind of game where the story is only told indirectly. You play as Six, a small, furtive little creature in an enormous vessel with some kind of sinister purpose. The actual purpose of the vessel is never explicitly spelled out, but as you venture from the cages where children are kept below decks, through the expansive kitchens, and ultimately to the spacious guest quarters, you start to think that maybe you don’t want to know. The bulk of the game is spent hiding and avoiding each level’s grotesque enemy, often solving puzzles by flipping a switch or finding a key. There’s a little bit of platforming (particularly early on) and some fun chase sequences and boss encounters here and there. Overall, though, this is a game about hide-and-seek and the feeling of being powerless while sneaking through a world of preoccupied adults.
I played the opening stages of Little Nightmares with a sense of dread and was a little disappointed, but this is a game that saves its good stuff for later in your adventure. And the latter stages of Little Nightmares are really memorable. The creepy long-armed man who can’t see but has a keen sense of smell makes a striking enemy early on. The bloated chefs you with their long knives and their strange single-mindedness are also fantastically unnerving. The actual ship guests with their ceaseless and overwhelming appetites also have some powerful moments. You’ll remember every enemy in this game. It’s funny, I tend to think these enemies look graphically better in still pictures than in motion, but they are SO MUCH CREEPIER when they are moving around on your screen. The game also does a great job of staging conclusive battles pitting you against each of these foes at the end of their stages and has a satisfying final battle as well.
The question with a game like Little Nightmares is whether the experience outweighs the limited game time. To be clear, the game is pretty short. Once you know what you’re doing (and the game can be frustratingly vague about what it wants you to do sometimes) and where you need to go, the levels become pretty easy to play through. You might miss the occasional platform or mess up an escape sequence, but the game is pretty generous with save points and quick with reload times. So, once you know what to do, it’s easy to play through pretty quickly. However, that makes the game one you may want to watch again or show off to your friends. Little Nightmares captures the creepiness of some forgotten claymation short or vintage cartoon. This is one of the most watchable games I’ve seen in a very long time and I’ll admit that I enjoyed showing off my ability to escape the human flood of hungry guests chasing Six down a narrow corridor (that is one haunting scene).
THE GOOD PARTS
The graphics are really amazing and the experience is really memorable. This is a fully realized world that is increasingly compelling the deeper you venture. And nothing makes you feel like a boss like outsmarting this world’s sinister, disturbing inhabitants.
THE WORST PARTS
Some of the platforming and puzzling can frustrate, but by far the most frustrating aspect of the game is how short it is. Like the bloated, insatiable guests you encounter, you’ll finish this game hungry for more.
OUR RECOMMENDATION: PLAY IT
It’s hard to justify $20 for such a short title, but this is a game worth playing through and an experience worth having.