I wake up in the prison, it’s cold, damp. Definitely not the McDonald’s I hoped my captors were going to take me to! I don’t have a lot outside of my Yellow raincoat and a lighter and the room is not filling me with confidence for things that I can use to haul ass out of this situation. For some reason, they gave me a suitcase to sleep in, one of those old leather ones you see in the movies. First thought on my mind though is how the hell do I get out of this place!
There’s a lot to say about little nightmares and just not enough time to say it in. the game comes from the guys at Tarsier studios and before you even start the game you’ll notice the publisher as Bandai Namco… GIANTS in the industry and arguably the biggest publisher of video games in the Asian market (Looking at you tekken ..) so not the biggest devs but a huge publisher and that usually is a foreshadowing for a quality product (big publishers don’t like to back a lame horse after all). The game recently hit the marketplace after a wave of solid reviews from the actual professionals so I thought I’d give it a shot myself.
Trying to get the gist of this story is a little difficult at first because for the first forty minutes of this game there really isn’t any of it and even after that the games story requires a lot of interpretation. You play as SIX, a little girl who has been cast to the lowest depths of the MAW by her mother. The MAW is a ship like structure that is totally underwater and acts as a kind of resort for the rich and famous to relax and enjoy themselves. This doesn’t sound too bad until you realise that the MAW holds a second and far more sinister purpose. It’s also a prison. A prison specifically designed for children who once they reach a certain age and weight suddenly become the lunch menu. This is something that plays a large role in the story of the game and gives it that chilling feeling when you progress through the game. Without spoiling much the games focus on the story is obviously the escape from the MAW and to discover why your mother the geisha lady left you there to be eaten. I’d like to talk more about the mother but her role is rather important to the game so I can’t say much. Now the story for me also was the biggest gripe in this game. As much as it requires a lot of interpretation at times there just isn’t enough of it for me. The game itself is PAINFULLY short at three hours and for £15 for a three-hour product it does really annoy me. Now I know that a quality product can redeem a high price tag in a short game but this doesn’t quite hit the mark for me to be able to afford it that courtesy. Now this doesn’t mean the story is bad, it’s just not enough.
Gameplay surprised me because even though it’s a minimalist style for this game it had a wide variety of mechanics on offer. For starters, the game has a far greater 3D style than I had first though. The background in each level is often more than just scenery. You’ll be doing a Lot of climbing in this game and the 3D rooms really keep this from getting too stagnant as it adds a wide variety of things to climb on. The climbing itself is done well, detection for objects is pretty precise but not in the way that requires perfection just attention and the animations have all been done really well and look smooth when you’re mantling something or ascending. Different animations for different climbable objects are also a very nice touch. The games core mechanics outside of this are running, pulling/pushing and the enjoyable swinging! Running there isn’t really a lot to say about this, it’s the most standard of bog standard mechanics and if you get this wrong you really shouldn’t be in games development. But the running is nice. You feel like your movement has weight to it and obviously because you’re a child you’re not going to be winning the 100M sprint. Sprinting feels good too with it not being too fast so in a tight spot like a chase you get that tense feeling that you might not be fast enough outrun your pursuer and some of the creepy looking freaks that chase you down in this you are not going to want to be caught by them but we will talk about those freak shows later on. Interacting with objects in this game is also a core mechanic as puzzles or what can be construed as puzzles plays a large part in this game and is key to progression.
Almost every room that you venture into will require you to accomplish some form of situational puzzle. These range from dragging or pushing an object across the room to reach the exit, swinging like you’re in Spiderman 2 across a gap and even some timed stiff where you have to shut down an electric gate to haul ass past it. There were also a few moments of avoiding a spotlight which made trigger the nostalgia fuel of being back in Prisoner of war for the PS2 (if you haven’t played it this was like the great escape only this game was good) which was a fun little moment. As stated the games length is not great so the rooms aren’t as expansive as they could have been and puzzles aren’t that complex as to keep progression moving at a good pace. Chase sequences can be a bit longer than you’d have expected at times and this is great because it adds to the tension the game is trying to create. In terms of gripes id have to say that some rooms have rather annoying A.I, there’s a dual room puzzle where you are trying to sneak by a pursuer early on that I got a little trapped in because he came back into the room when I was trying to escape and I had already failed 3 times and timed his room movements so that I could sneak by and bam he walked in right when id timed hi to be in the other room?! But after beating the room I felt this was not a common thing throughout the game. This isn’t Outlast after all and the A.I aren’t totally ridiculous.
Now the art direction. Arguably one of the biggest appeals of the game for certain! The art for this game is simply gorgeous. Every room you go into even the darkest and dingiest of rooms with not a lot in them is well crafted and feels like effort went into it. The game has a 3D environment but the art style comes across as making it seem 2D at times and this isn’t a drawback the game is a side scroller so I feel it’s meant to have that aesthetic and that ait plays into the games overall feel well aside from a few scenes where you are under the floorboards and it comes apart a little because it doesn’t seem to keep the same feel as the actual room. The lighting plays an important part in this game too as a core item given to you right away is your lighter. Rooms can often be pitch dark or dimly lit and requires you to use the lighter to see things. Some puzzles even rely on this and I found that to be rather enjoyable. Shadows subsequently are also very well done here and despite not being the best shadow work overseen in a game Little Nightmares does it well enough, especially in the lighter based puzzles and the dimly lit rooms. Makes it really creepy to move around in I found. The largest aspect of the art style for me and the part that really stuck with me was enemies… what. An. Ugly. Bunch. Of Freaks! I never really found out if the enemies were meant to look the way that they do or if this was just how Six saw them in her mind but they’re literally monsters. Hideous faces and more often than not they have their eyes covered and bandages on them. The first one you come across appears to be the warden of the MAW prison for children and he has elongated arms around 3 times the normal length. Sort of like a really gruesome Mr Tickle (Mr Men for the win) and they all seem to look like they have been involved in a fire and had their skin melted. The enemies of the game are hideous looking, relentless in their pursuit of you and its great! They make the game nightmarish for me because I feel like scrunching up my face when I’m forced to look at them, I get a faster heart rate when they find me and I have to make a Usain Bolt for the exit or a hiding place and that’s how the bad guys should be in a game like this. I want to avoid them, I want to feel weird when I have to look at them. Overall the art style for this does so much for this game in term of atmosphere and directly adding to the feel of the story!
In summary, this game is a real great one but it is hit painfully by its drastically short playtime. Now I’m a strong advocate of Quality before Quantity. I want a game to be good rather than be super lengthy but here I feel the length actually takes away from the experience for me. Three hours is not the shortest game I’ve ever played for £15 but Little Nightmares just feels like it cuts off rather than ends. Like there was more to be had in this experience and it just didn’t make it for some reason. That aside. The game is great, it’s got the gameplay, the art style, the tension that I wanted from this game. The story is also a good one too if you’re willing to accept a little bit of interpretation from yourself on how things are the way they are. For me I would really recommend this game, for the price it’s not the worst price ever but if you can I’d get this in a sale without hesitation!