My Time with Little Nightmares (2017)

Nightmares are intangible, yet vividly felt. Little Nightmares creates a fantastic atmosphere and leads the player on a journey that evokes more memorable feelings than plot points.

You awake alone, tucked away in some abandoned yet lived-in corner with no context. Your character, Six (1), is a little girl wearing a bright yellow raincoat. The environment sways in stark contrast as dimly lit shades of dark brown and gray color the inner workings of this ship, the Maw (2). Six is of unusual scale, which is made apparent in the first moments as she climbs out of a suitcase after waking from a nightmare (of course). She feels even more out of place after trekking through a child’s playroom and nursery, both made for children much bigger than her.

The lack of a real story at this point made my goal simple, survive. I did not know what to expect, so I moved cautiously in preparation for what might lie ahead in the shadows. Little Nightmares incites that anxiety with its distinctive style. It is perfectly creepy, like an absurd diorama hidden away in your attic. The background sinks far into the distance and walls stretch above the screen. It all plays into the perspective of a child trying to make sense of the unknown.

A hook: one convenient mode of transportation

The Maw is surreal. You are confined to the inside of a boat but it feels sprawling despite the singular route ahead. That route is curated to ensure the exciting story of Six, featuring places and creatures that establish a disturbing world. This is Little Nightmares’ greatest strength. Settings become increasingly memorable, each having a function and distinct style. The creatures of the ship look human enough but are grossly exaggerated in various ways, like caricatures of their roles on the Maw. If you are looking to be creeped out, this game delivers.

Have I played Inside?

Yes, and there are some pretty striking similarities. Both are atmospheric puzzle-platformers that are best consumed in one sitting. They pit you against the brutal unknown but hold your hand the whole way. I think Inside is a bit more concise with its experience and more open-ended in its interpretation, even with the secret ending. Little Nightmares has a more explicit grasp on the themes it wants to explore and meaningfully develops Six with a surprising payoff.

Inside is more smooth, for a few reasons. 1 — Character models are literally smoother. 2 — Two-dimension movement is simpler and the camera can keep a more fixed position. 3 — The whole experience is cohesive, as in no chapters. While Little Nightmares does not have the same level of polish, it has more broadly built out its world. DLC chapters, a prequel mobile app, and comics fill in extra details. The announced sequel is another step toward becoming a franchise and has caught my eye, but I will likely wait for a sale before continuing the story myself.

Avoiding baddies is another similarity

Controlling Six is intuitive due to a universal grab button that enables you to manipulate and climb across any space. The first chapter acts as a tutorial by forcing you to interact with a variety of objects that you will see again. Rooms are in sync with this core ability and start to feel like playgrounds. You only have so many paths available and objects to grab at any given time, so the puzzles built-into each room are straightforward. I was only once confused when I didn’t realize that I could climb a certain box or cage.

When you enter a room, you can quickly identify your goal and any danger in the way. If there is an enemy, they will react aggressively to the first sight of your yellow jacket. Often these encounters ask you to hide for a few tense seconds before you can advance, but the best of them require you to run and hide wherever you can while throwing objects to distract.

There is an additional mechanic in using Six’s lighter. It illuminates eerie hallways and rooms, of which there are many. This adds an extra dimension to exploring by motivating you to check every corner and see what is hiding in the dark.

Who wouldn’t want to climb up those drawers?

I was surprised at how quickly the satisfying final moments arrived. I must admit that I borrowed this game so the lack of financial investment made me more open to enjoying it. I didn’t need to play it for a certain amount of hours for it to be worth some price. That being said I enjoyed it quite a bit, especially as it ramps up in the third and fourth chapters. October was a fitting time for this spooky title (3) and my girlfriend would get caught up in watching when she joined me by the TV.

I’m happy a sequel is on the way because I enjoy seeing games as a medium share short yet impactful experiences with relatively high-budgets (compared to an indie title). Personally, Little Nightmares was not a favorite of mine. Six’s world is engaging and thematic aligned with the story, but the narrow perspective is its biggest weakness. We know Six should not be on this boat, but we do not know her place in the broader world and why she is so different from everyone else. I could understand why someone would use the same point to describe the strengths of this game, but let us agree that Little Nightmares will resonate differently for everyone. I recommend anyone take this trip through the Maw.

COMPLETED ON: 10/18/2020

PLAYED ON: PS4

  1. I am obliged to say that her name never explicitly shows up in the game. It’s not hard to learn if you do any reading about the game outside of itself.
  2. Same deal as “Six”
  3. Happy belated Halloween!

This post was originally published on my blog: brothersaint.wordpress.com

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