Bandai Namco and Tarsier Studios' Little Nightmares has been out for a while now, but I've been having fun taking my time with this one, so kept pushing back the review to make sure I absolutely explored every creepy nook and shadowed corner of this game before giving you my final thoughts on it.
Taking the time to glance into all of the decrepit corners of the various levels in Little Nightmares nets you some cute things. And some alarmingly disturbing details. But overall is not necessary to the game. Average playtime is about 2-3 hours, with my longest run taking me maybe 4.
The setup is pretty simple. Little Nightmares is a side-scrolling adventure puzzle game which wants to terrify the hell out of you with your environment and the situations that you put yourself in, rather than with jump scares. You play as Six, a tiny rain-coat wearing child of uncertain origin as you wander around a level known as "The Prison" in what is called The Maw. How Six got there and what he's doing in this world of nightmares is unknown at the start.
You can tell that the game was designed for PC primarily however. The controls with a game-pad are relatively simplistic, but the game doesn't give you any clues as to the controls. You figure them out on your own, or, if you fail enough times, the UI gives you a few hints.
The game-play is pretty fun puzzle solving. Your main objective is to get from room to room as you progress through creepier and creepier game stages, while avoiding any of the various nightmares that would do you harm.
You are just a kid in a raincoat, after all. Stylish as it might be, you are basically defenseless. All you have with you is a lighter, which can't be used as an offensive weapon. The lighter doesn't ever run out of fuel on you, which is nice, though pretty much everything can and will kill you. Your only defense is to run away and jump over any slimes that might be slithering toward you.
The story of Little Nightmares is what you make of it. The game definitely takes after Playdead's Limbo and Inside in that, well, you are given basically no backstory and uncover little dialogue through the game. The story that you get is what you piece together from the environment and the game progress. Often times the stories you uncover are about the specific nightmare worlds that you walk through. And they're never as simple as they seem.
The overall story of Six's journey through The Maw, though, ends rather abruptly after only a few hours of play. Little Nightmares easily could have been longer, and I'm not quite sure why it isn't.
But if you aren't for taking your time and want to just get through the game, you'll notice pretty quickly that there isn't much new in the way of mechanics. All you need to do is push or drag objects, pull levers, and maybe rip off a stray 2×4 here and there. So it's a pretty basic side-scroller who leverages most of its talent on art design. And wow, is this game cool to look at.
If you ever wondered what a horror game made by Laika would look like, well Little Nightmares is it.
The game's difficulty is not exactly high. Most of the puzzles are easy to get through and intuitive. Most of your frustration will come from being unable to see at certain angles – the camera angle is very much fixed as this is a side scroller, but the 3D level design makes you feel like you should be able to rotate it around. And if it isn't your inability to properly see around the next corner that gets you, well, it'll probably be that annoyingly unfair death you get at the hands of an unavoidable enemy.
That said, I've been happy to run this a few times, but that was more for me trying to check every single thing, see if there were new ways to solve puzzles, or small details that I'd missed. And I happily did so because the game is so short.
Little Nightmares is not at it's best when you're in the middle of a confrontation with any of the various inhabitants of The Maw. The game shines in it's art, in the small stories that it tells in each room, and in some of the complex puzzles you need to assemble.
But if you want a stylistic, side-scrolling horror puzzle game that doesn't require the use of jump scares, you might be better off checking out Limbo or Inside first. But if you enjoyed both of Playdead's cult classics, well, Little Nightmares is a good addition to that genre and it won't cost you much.