An all-new horror platformer
Little Nightmares for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is basically your worst childhood fears manifested as a video game. It presents a cruel and shadowy universe where you, the tiny heroine Six, must escape the grotesque creatures lurking within.
While the adventure is on the short side, it’s one of the most inspired and original horror platformers ever made. I love its darkly whimsical art-style, and the gruesome enemies stick with me long after I finished its twisted story. As well, the developers did an amazing job in the creation of Six. She’s an adorable, yet tragic figure that evokes deeper feelings of compassion the longer you experience her harrowing journey.
Trapped aboard The Maw
The story begins with our nine-year-old heroine waking up alone and experiencing crippling hunger pangs inside a dank, shadowy prison. Seeing an opportunity to escape her nightmare imprisonment, Six embarks on a perilous journey through this bizarre and depraved world.
Soon, you discover the prison is actually a sinister holding cell within a large undersea vessel known as The Maw. It’s a luxury liner of sorts where glutinous guests come to devour any kind of meat—including the flesh of children. Naturally, they don’t take too fondly to some of their “food” escaping, so keeping out of sight becomes a matter of life and death.
Little nightmares? More like huge
Your journey through The Maw takes you to many different areas, each with their own disturbing creatures to contend with. First, you’ll encounter slimy, venomous leeches deep within the bowls of the prison. These bipedal monstrosities are like walking black sludge with a hose-like mouth for sucking out blood. Gross as they might be, they pale in comparison to what comes next.
When I first saw the “Janitor” (seen left) my eyes could barely believe what I was seeing. He’s the first crew member you come across, and what a shockingly nightmarish sight he is. For one thing, he has lanky, noodle-like arms that flop around like tentacles. Compare that to his short, stubby legs and he comes off as hauntingly disproportionate.
Moreover, it appears as if the top half of his facial skin is falling down, completely covering his eyes. As such, instead of visually spotting you he “sniffs” you out with these horrible-sounding nasal sounds. It’s jarring just how creepy the Janitor is, but as I discovered, there are even worse monstrosities to come.
Entering the Kitchen
Next on your journey is the Kitchen, a place where horribly freakish creatures prepare the meat. It’s here where you come face-to-face with twin butchers willing to throw anything that moves into their boiling pots. That includes you, cute yellow raincoat and all.
By this point in the adventure I was feeling absolute pity for Six for having to endure such dreadful situations. Luckily, she’s a tiny girl who’s able to hid unseen beneath tables, and sneak through small holes between rooms. With that said, you’ll want to move with extreme caution because seeing Six get caught is absolutely heart-wrenching.
A flicker of hope
Overcoming the dangers within The Maw requires resourcefulness and patience, as Six has no way to attack. Instead, you must use her diminutive size to your advantage and sneak around this ominous vessel. Sometimes that involves crawling through air vents, while other times it means stealthily tip-toeing under furniture.
Six does possess one handy tool for survival though, and that’s her lighter with infinite fuel. Given how dimly lit the boat is, it’s practically a necessity. Moreover, on top of being a vital light source, you can also use it to light lanterns and candles. This provides additional, much-needed illumination, and furthermore acts like an in-game checkpoint system.
Further tugging on your heartstrings are little dunce cap-wearing critters called Nomes (without the “g”). These skittish guys roam The Maw, often hiding in dark crevices away from prying eyes. Should you stumble upon one during your journey, Six can approach them for a warm hug. Afterwards, for a brief while the Nome will follow you around, perhaps as a sign of appreciation.
It’s never really explained what exactly these creatures are, leaving this to your imagination. Are they other children cruelly transformed while aboard the ship? Or perhaps they’re just another type of “meat” on this ship’s ghastly dinner menu. But hey, at least hugging enough of them unlocks one of the game’s trophies (and it impacts the ending, somewhat.)
Beautifully grim presentation
The art direction in Little Nightmares is incredible and totally unique. It’s gloomy and darkly whimsical, exactly how you’d picture a young child’s worst nightmare. While The Maw is unquestionable a horrible prison, at the same time it contains lighthearted playground elements too. You might find bouncy balls to play with, or building block towers you can knock over. There’s even a bunch of beds you jump on for good measure. This contrast of innocent childhood moments mixed with disturbing moments of horror is what really sets this game apart.
Enhancing the grim mood is a spooky soundtrack that gave me the chills. Sounds are often ambient, like rickety boat creaks and unsettling gushes of heavy wind. However, during encounters with The Maw’s grotesque denizens the tension gets ratcheted up several notches. These moments are often filled with startling tunes heavy on bass, and loud, sudden jump scare noises. As unpleasant as the audio may be, it does wonders to enhance the moment-to-moment action.
Little Nightmares for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is a thoroughly original adventure that delivers on its promise. It’s a grim, unsettling universe that shocks you with its presentation, while at the same time warms your heart with compassion. The art style is truly inspired, blending nightmarish elements with the innocence of childhood. Little Nightmares is a bit short though, clocking in at roughly four hours. Having said that, it’s a story you’ll never forget and absolutely worth experiencing.
+ A dark, ominous setting
+ Heart-wrenching story
+ Inspired art style
+ Eerie soundtrack
+ Challenging puzzles
+ Completely original experience
– Game is a bit short
– Overly scary at times
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3/5