Little Nightmares is a platform puzzle game with a very creepy suspense horror theme designed by Tarsier Games and published by Bandai Namco Entertainment. The game is sort of a non-conventional side scroller that offers a limited 3-D view based on slight head movements from the main character, Six. The game released on April 20th, with the first DLC due out this summer. The DLC is available via season pass, which seems to be the new norm.
Burton-del Toro Love Child
Little Nightmares is a beautiful game. I could probably stop there but what kind of review would that be? The game makes perfect use of lighting, sound, and camera angles to create its world. It's a spooky game, almost a horror in the psychological sense, which is the best kind in my opinion. I've never been much of a fan of the in-your-face gore and jump scares. For me it's the thing in the dark, the shadows large enough to hide monsters in, and the things just out of the corner of your eye that mess with our animal brains best. Tarsier hit it on the nose with this one.
Most of the suspense of the game is accomplished through lighting. Shadows in the right places make you wonder what is hiding in them. Dark hallways sparsely lit from above, or your tiny little lighter flame, makes it feel like the walls are closing in on you. In fact much of the game is spent entirely alone, but it always feels like there's something bad just around the next corner, or behind the box at the end of the hall. It wasn't quite as intense as a full on horror game, just more of something that tickles at the short hairs on the back of your neck.
The music in Little Nightmares is decent, but not really memorable. It does set a good mood with the added sound effects but nothing I'd need the soundtrack of. As a package, with the rest of the game though, the music does a good job of creating the environment. Most of the sound effects seem small, which does a great job of conveying the size of the areas in relation to the main character. At other times, when the big bads are on screen, the sounds are huge and overbearing. It all helps make the character feel small and alone while you wander the ship.
Where the game brings it all together in my opinion is the art. It's like Burton and del Toro got together and took a peek at a little kid's nightmares and then drew them. Everything that seems 'adult', from the furniture to the literal adults, is over exaggerated. Bookcases and cabinets are ridiculously tall and misshapen. Chairs are overly large and rooms seem vast with dark shadows and sparse lights to cast those nightmares in stark relief. Then there's the people. The passengers on the ship, and crew, that Six must evade to find out what's really going on. It's like a bunch of six year old kids were asked to describe the boogeyman, and each depiction was given a spot in the game.
My biggest beef with game design though has to be game time. I've dinged other games for this, so I have to point out that the initial price point doesn't really support the length of the game. The art quality is great, as well as other factors, but if you paid 10 dollars for a 2 hour movie, and someone came along and gave you an equally entertaining 30 minute movie for 10 dollars you might be a little disappointed. That shorter movie, or in this case game, needs to reach above and beyond to justify the price. This one does well enough, because it did impress me, but I sure wish it had been longer.
Navigating the Ship of Horrors
The production quality is great, but I did have some issues with the mechanics. The camera and perspective could be an irritation at times. Being a platformer, with movable objects and puzzles, you are often required to make your own platforms. Pull or push objects into place so you can jump and reach levers, chains, and ropes. Because of the side-scrolling design on a 3D map it wasn't always easy to tell when you were under, or lined up with your target. The camera could be turned, just a little, but that wasn't always enough to be able to tell if you were in the right spot. Then jumping to catch whatever it is you needed to catch took several tries in a few places. The only saving grace there was timing the catch wasn't so bad. You could essentially jump, while holding down the grab key, and as long as you were lined up right Six would grab whatever you were going for. It was, by far, the most annoying aspect of the game.
The puzzles, for the most part, were fun and challenging. With a couple of exceptions the puzzles weren't so frustrating that I just wanted to give up. I did have trouble with a couple of them, and one that made me walk away for awhile. For the majority of the game it was fun though. The game is a bit of stealth, platforming, and speed-running all rolled into one. Some areas give you all the time you need to navigate the room and figure out where to go. Other times you have to fly through an area being chased by hungry adults spilling out of rooms and corridors.
The best part was the simplicity of controls. This game is beautifully crafted, with a great story, and the last thing I want to do is learn a keyboard full of controls just to play it. There's the standard wsad movement, though the arrows can be used as well. You run with shift, crouch with control, and jump with space. Left-click on the mouse grabs objects and ledges and F lights the little lighter that's your only source of light. That's it. Probably the simplest set of controls I've run into in a long time. It lets you focus on enjoying the game and story.
A Mariner's Tale
In Little Nightmares you take the role of Six, a nine year-old girl in a yellow rain slicker. You were captured and imprisoned in the hull of a ship called the Maw. As Six you must escape the ship, making your way through a series of puzzle rooms. You see the story develop slowly, learning little by little what is actually going on with the ship. You start to find out what the long-armed and blind janitor is up to by capturing the kids and wrapping them up. Those kids pass on to the grotesque cooks who appear to be a set of twins that work the ship's kitchen. It doesn't take long after that to see what's really going on.
The story takes Six through the ship and gives you scene after seen of disturbing images. It starts out relatively benign, except for the kids in cages of course. As Six grows hungry she eats whatever is on hand. Whatever is on hand becomes a little more disturbing as the tale goes on. The story itself goes from simply creepy to downright disturbing very quickly.
Without giving too much away I can honestly say it's the best story game I've played in quite some time. There is an element of surprise and mystery in the plot that keeps you craving more. The suspense is maintained right up until the end, and the horror aspect is more like something we'd dream up as children lying in bed and staring into a dark closet as our minds churned out what might dwell in its depths. The story, characters, and even level design make it feel like this game was pulled right out of the nightmares of a child. The only drawback to the story, in my opinion, is it is too short. The game itself, and the plot that drives it could have been expanded to offer a better experience.