It took me no time at all to realise that Little Nightmares was no ordinary platform-puzzle-horror game. The dank, shadowy world you awaken in, armed with nothing more than a lighter and a strong grip adds a level of tension very few platformers create.
Comparisons will obviously be drawn to Outside and Limbo, which is both a compliment as well as being rather misguided. The aesthetic sways away from a cartoon-like, two-dimensional side scroller, instead favouring a stunningly realistic, yet twisted world that oozed both charm and fear in equal measure.
With neither dialogue nor text to assist you in finding out what’s going on in the world, the game continues to push you forward, revealing surprising new areas that vary from one room to the next. Although confusing at the start, the concept of what is happening in the world you’re traversing is fairly straightforward – you awaken in a prison and you’ve got to find your way out without being killed. However, as you delve higher and higher in the structure you find yourself in, a deep and complex lore opens up, leaving its interpretation entirely up to the player.
What the game lacks in story it makes up for in how it plays. The developers Tarsier Studios found mainstream success in LittleBigPlanet and their skill in developing a platformer that plays as well as it looks is evident here. The controls feel polished and not once did I die feeling it was the fault of fiddly controls or how the game was designed.
And dying is something you’ll do a lot. The third and fourth chapters are full of either sneaking or running around and as someone who has a limited amount of patience with games that constantly punish you, passing to the next part of the level always felt achievable. The instant reload times and generous checkpoints helped dampen the rage when missing a jump or getting sliced and diced by chefs for the fifth time.
In spite of the constant deaths, it can’t be said that Little Nightmares is a particularly challenging game. There are a couple of times you might scratch your head for ten minutes or try a number of different ways to defeat a boss, but you’ll always get through and not once did I come close to quitting or leaving it until the next morning. For some this will be an instant turn off, but as a game which revels in hooking you from the very start, their intention to allow you to play the game from start to finish in one sitting is evident.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Little Nightmares is the variety in challenges. If you’re not a fan of sneaking around and hiding while an overpowered enemy is searching for you, don’t fear as each chapter offers whole new challenges and experiences. One moment you’re creeping round a stove avoiding the glance of an obese chef, the next moment you’re bouncing off a fat guest’s back rolls and running for your life. The ability to keep a game fresh with such basic controls is a credit to the developers and once you’ve finished the game, you’ll be amazed at how much time has unwittingly passed.
Most players will find the game beatable in under four hours, although with collectibles available by smashing statues and hugging ‘nomes’, a second playthrough could add some longevity to it. These collectibles unlock art and present you with a slightly different ending, so after learning how to pass each stage, they shouldn’t pose any serious difficulty to those who enjoy finishing games to absolute completion.
Overall, Tarsier Studios have yet again hit the mark when it comes to creating a standout platformer. Riding the wave created by both Limbo and Outside, Little Nightmares has risen to the top, establishing itself as one of the best of its kind. The dark and frankly disturbing immediate story and interpretative lore will undoubtedly spawn countless opinion pieces ranging from the greed of the baby boom generation to the capitalist society we now live in, however, even stripping that away you’re still left with a fantastic puzzle-platformer that both looks and plays as well as any other game released this year.