Reviewed on PC
Little Nightmares is horrific. It isn’t about the things that go bump. It’s about life, and imbalance. Toying with fears we keep locked away, Tarsier Studios’ dark puzzle-platformer is a measure of true horror, poking fun at adulthood and quietly bridging the gap between mundane and macabre.
Six, disembarks from a suitcase. She’s dressed in yellow and her tiny anorak has her Georgie from the opening pages of Stephen King’s IT. As with Georgie, and his grim bit of tough love, Six soon learns that the world’s not a safe place.
Moving through the innards of The Maw, the game’s grizzled backdrop, even Six’ shadow, lit long by lanterns and small slivers of light, feels like it could turn on her. It’s a bleak conceit but one that sets the tone for the rest.
In wrought iron and wood grain, the world of Little Nightmares feels like a chapter torn from a book of Grimms’ fairy tales. But this isn’t your grandmother’s house. Objects bulge and monsters roam, arms flailing, fat bubbling from beneath stained apron or soiled tweed. Those alive seem to be at work. The not-so-lucky sway from the rafters.
Stripped of complexity, progression in Little Nightmares is classic puzzle-platforming: find issue, solve issue, move on. The studio’s work on LittleBigPlanet is evident, and Six ducks seamlessly between foreground and back, climbing a bookcase or edging a thin shelf above the heads of sleeping denizens, all in the name of finding a way forward.
This mantra of minimalism also holds in the game’s soundscape. Swirls of low brass and wind-chime mix with the murmurings of everyday life: the scrubbing of a dish, the quiet rustle of a workshop. Music is downplayed but ramps during moments of panic, underscoring that you’re now set upon by something you can’t even hope to understand.
A duet of darkness and volume, Little Nightmares, in vision, feels a bit like a lost Playdead effort (LIMBO, INSIDE). However, muted violence and ample bouts of hide-and-seek has it more fantasy than dystopia. It’s an interesting swerve, and helps move focus from some well-worn mechanics and slightly clunky controls.
Tarsier have sorted something wonderful. A visual summons and nesting that something, somewhere, is just a little off, Little Nightmares brings with it those moments in life you’ve never quite been able to explain. The world’s tough, especially when you have no reference for its horrors. Sometimes, there’s still fun to be had in unpacking it all.