|System: PS4, Xbox One, PC|
|Dev: Tarsier Studios|
|Pub: Bandai Namco Entertainment|
|Release: April 28, 2017|
|Players: 1 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Violence|
by Sean Engemann
It would be wrong to glance at the title and misinterpret its meaning as miniscule frights that couldn’t possibly penetrate your tough skin. Little Nightmares is a very disturbing game, one that pulls you back into your childhood and manifests each dreadful fear you had while the darkness of night enveloped your house. It turns those memories into an interactive reality in this horror puzzler. After having their hands in LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway Unfolded, developer Tarsier Studios has taken their side-scrolling platformer skills to grim levels. Here, they pit a frail, nine-year-old girl named Six against the denizens of her house, a prison called The Maw that she is desperately trying to escape.
Starting in the depths of a cold steel floored and pipe strewn basement, Six moves from one room to the next. Her singular goal is to locate the room’s exit and discover what needs to be manipulated to access her escape hatch. Nestled around the abstract and enlarged set pieces are objects and furniture to physically influence, some designed to solve your current predicament and others placed simply as a pretense of normalcy. You may cling to a few childish joys, like having Six traipse through a pool of black sludge barefoot and using the floorboards as a canvas for her foot paintings. Or perhaps you will spend a few extra minutes in the toy room, knocking over wooden blocks and dangling on an oversized swing set or chasing a toy train around a merry-go-round, if nothing more than to distract your mind from the electrified prison bars on either side of the room.
The only warmth in Little Nightmares comes from the cigarette lighter Six clutches tightly in her hand; it is her sole weapon against the shadows, her other arm shielding the flame from the wind as she scurries away from worm like monsters trying to constrict the life out of her. Other rooms require caution and patience in order to avoid the petrifying gaze (literally) of the keepers of the house. Eyes are always watching in some form, carved into wooden doors, stamped on toy blocks, and scrawled on the walls, instilling a constant reminder that the adults are always aware.
Little Nightmares’s journey changes pace often. At times you’re given an eternity in a lifeless room, then move to an adjacent room where you have to hide from and tiptoe around a grotesque adult. This could be followed by a chase through a hallway with twenty foot arms mere inches from strangling your scrawny torso. Though this is not a horror game that thrives on jump scares, even the moments of silence had me worried that every new animation could expose me to discovery. I found myself hiding in cages, behind boxes, and anywhere else in the shadows after successfully completing many of the puzzles, wondering if my mischief had stirred any adults and alerted them to my presence.
Each warped and artistic frame is either filled with beautiful details and disturbing imagery or purposefully barren, cold, and constricting backdrops to heighten the feelings of solitude. Whether it’s ashtrays spilling over discarded cigarette butts or the dusty remains of other children incinerated by the gaze of a monstrous eye in the wall, you’ll be beckoned to pause and snap the flame on your cigarette lighter not only to check darkened corners, but also just to appreciate the vision the designers and artists put on display. There is a juxtaposition of scale at play in Little Nightmares. Though nine-years-old, from the lens of a child the world seems much larger and imposing, and this contrast is made true with chairs, dresser, and other furniture easily three to four times the size of our toddler heroine. The game also plays off-balance (again, literally), as the world sways like a creaky planked ship on the sea, catalyzing a queasiness within your belly as you shift from side to side while a tube of toilet paper or a tin can rolls along with the teetering camera. Oftentimes, this weight shift plays into solving puzzles, as you time your movements or pulling of a hefty object to access an out of reach switch.