[Disclosure: A review key was provided for the contents of this article.]
Considering that it weighs in at just five hours or so in length, Little Nightmares certainly leaves a lasting impression. This claymation style platform game is a two-and-a-half dimensional romp through a floating world called The Maw, which is a kind of strange, foreboding mix between prison ship for tiny people and party boat for grotesque, deformed giants. Players take on the roll of Six, a young girl who awakens from – seemingly some other – nightmare, with nothing but a distinctive yellow raincoat and her trusty lighter.
Like Limbo and Inside before it, Little Nightmares’ decision to cast a child in the lead role is an inspired one. I don’t like seeing children in peril in any medium, and it’s that exact protective instinct which the developers tap into in Little Nightmares. There’s no inference that the hideous giants that inhabit The Maw want to eat Six or anything quite that unpleasant, but they definitely want to catch her and presumably return her to the prison she originated from. In any case, being caught results in game over, so you’ll want to run, hide, jump and scramble to escape their grasp.
The Maw is a strange setting and little is said about it in game, to the extent that I only know its name, and Six’s name because I’ve been onto the Little Nightmares website. There’s a note to developers here, which is simply that when you create a unique and compelling game world that has never been seen before, please tell us more about it! The Maw sways steadily from side to side as a constant reminder that it is floating, and this movement seems incredibly fitting with the grubby art style and huge scale. I felt like Six was a mouse, scuttling around the kitchens, cabins and dining rooms of some grim 1920’s ship.
The levels are imaginative takes on areas that will be familiar to most of us. The game begins in a series of what appear to be machine rooms and cargo holds that appear to be scaled at least partly with Six, but these early stages soon give way to rooms that are clearly intended for larger occupants. Navigation will come naturally and intuitively to anyone that has ever seen The Borrowers or Land of the Giants, with Six using filing cabinets as steps by pulling out the draws in sequence, or swinging on pull chains. As a result puzzles are usually just about challenging enough to give pause for a moment or two, but never overstay their welcome and can always be solved via some logical conclusion.
Aside from traditional platforming in this oversized world, there are a number of stealth and chase sequences for Six to navigate, both of which do a good job of introducing welcome variety considering how short the game is anyway. Stealth sequences where enemies were present seemed tense and exciting to me, especially when I was spotted and the giant, roving fingers searched for a panting Six hidden behind the scenery. The chase sequences are off the hook however, and feature the perfect mix of traditional platforming along with a number of unexpected hurdles thrown in to mix things up.
Little Nightmares is a great game, and in my opinion it is more than a match for the other survival horror-come-platform games that have been gaining popularity in recent years. The art style is unique and the music and sound effects are the perfect compliment to enhance an already curious and foreboding experience. It may be short, but Little Nightmares will do enough to stay with you for some time to come, and as a result, my verdict is: