Nightmares, dreams that are likely to invoke a strong emotional response, commonly under the guise of fear. Little Nightmares, a game which hopes to instill the essence of this word, grabs the player, and throws them into a visually disturbing world filled with horrors behind every door. But is this one nightmare that’s worth experiencing, or just another bad dream?
You play as a small child wearing a bright yellow raincoat, with your face being hidden under the hood. The only tool in your possession is a tiny lighter, used to guide the player through the dark and foreboding areas you’ll come across. You’re capable of grabbing and interacting with most objects in the game, but none are possible to be used as a weapon, leaving you defenseless against the monsters you face.
Much like other horror based side-scrollers such as Limbo or Inside, this game leaves it up to you to interpret its story. No characters speak, and only through the landscape you explore, and the terrors you face will any information be presented. This environment is an extremely unsettling one, with everything being out of proportion to you, giving the familiar perspective of how grand everything must feel from a smaller stature.
The journey your character goes on presents a wide variety of different obstacles, puzzles and challenges to overcome. One minute you may be racing to get to a door before it closes, and the next you’ll be stealthily moving under tables trying not to be spotted by this world’s inhabitants. By giving the ability to often move in the 3D plane, a real sense of depth and discovery is offered in an otherwise mostly linear game.
Amplifying the atmosphere is the excellent audio, the subtle camera adjustments and vibrations felt in the controller during tense moments, all drawing you further into this experience. The vibrations let you know when you are making too much noise, with audible cries and music cues alerting you to being spotted. At this point your only option is to run and hide, or else face punishment for not being more careful.
This could become frustrating if not for the abundance of spots to cower or escape in. Even if you get caught, you awaken back in the same room you were just in, removing any annoyance of lost progress. What can be difficult at times is the controls with respect to the 3D environment, often creating imprecise obstacles to grab or walk on, commonly leading to death.
Additionally, the puzzles can be a bit simplistic, but this just means there is less time before the next hide and seek encounter with a foe. These monsters all have a unique and terrifying appearance, and I found myself constantly excited for what new horror awaits after having survived the previous one. A minimum amount of trial and error occurs during these confrontations, but by using your wits and the environment, it is often possible to avoid being spotted.
In total the game clocks in between three to four hours, which I would have preferred to go a little bit longer, as some of the final encounters feel a fair bit shorter than those found earlier in the game. There is a bit of replayability, with secret objects and hidden creatures to discover, but nothing that drastically increases playtime such as a new mode. There is more content to look forward to though, with three DLC packs featuring the “Runaway Kid” on the horizon, the first of which is coming out in July.
As horror often treads common ground, it’s great to see Little Nightmares manages to offer up a compelling and unique perspective unlike many games in its genre today. As weird and horrifying as the environments and characters you encounter, it was a constant joy to see what new surprises waited behind each door. Unlike most nightmares, you’ll be disappointed when you wake up from this dream.
Written By Russell Collom
Reviewed on PS4
Available on PS4, PC and Xbox One