Content Warning: Disturbing imagery
Little Nightmares is a horror action-adventure puzzle platformer that was published by Bandai Namco Entertainment in 2017. This single-player game follows a little girl that is dressed up in a yellow raincoat. We quickly learn that she’s trapped in a place referred to as the Maw, which is a mysterious ship that is involved in some very dark and disturbing shenanigans. Realising the grim fate of children aboard the vessel, the little girl escapes her cage and tries to find a way to escape.
Madame Gabs and I checked-out this game from the library a few months ago, before the Great Quarantine Era of 2020 initiated, and it completely blew our minds. A short game that can be played in one extended sitting, approximately ten to twelve hours, it is filled with so much depth to it that we were left with our jaws hitting the floor, and somewhat queasy butterflies in our stomachs. By far, one of the best puzzle platformers we had played in a long ass time.
When I chatted with some gamer friends about Little Nightmares, I was quite surprised by how many of them either hadn’t heard of it or didn’t feel like it was something they should prioritise above their backlog of “more serious gaming titles,” something I actually related to tremendously.
I’ll be the first one to admit that when I heard about this thing (which happened when it was ported to the Nintendo Switch console), I was sceptical on whether it would be worth investing my time into. I love games that are original and creative, along with having a decent tale to tell, When it comes to horror, if it doesn’t scare the fucking shite out of me, then it’s not doing its job and, as such, probably not that good of a game. Suffice to say, when Gabs and I finally sat down to play it, I pouted without much expectation of it being decent. But the game turned around and bitch-slapped me with awe because it’s fucking phenomenal and it definitely deserves to be a priority on the gaming backlog.
Today, rather than do a full review for Little Nightmares, I thought it be neat to keep it simple and give y’all gamers out there five basic reasons for bumping this on your To-Be-Played lists, particularly if you’re in search a handful of hours of fantastic horror-infused escapism.
Excellent Interactive Storytelling
The storytelling isn’t conventional. There is very, very little to no dialogue in this game. Everything is expressed via the interactions that the little girl has with her surroundings. Whether it’s in the form of a puzzle that needs to be solved or the atrocities that she’s witnessing as she searches for a means to freedom or having to literally run for her very life. The player gets to infer what the Maw is and what role the little girl has in the grand picture of it all. This helps to create a supremely immersive experience. By the time you’re finished, the multi-faceted meanings behind the story will blow your bloody mind.
Inventive Spin on the Puzzle Platformer
Most puzzle platformers are pretty straightforward. In Trine, there are levers to push, ropes to pull down, and boxes to move. These elements are also placed in relatively conspicuous ways so the player can’t really miss them. While all of these apply here with Little Nightmares, the puzzle-solving dynamics are much more subtle and woven into the grotesque and disturbing backgrounds and foregrounds of the game. What the player perceives to be just another bit of graphical decoration is in fact a key aspect needed for progression. Additionally, with regard to the platforming bits, there are sections of the game where the scenes shift once you reach a specific point and the background comes to life, becoming the next part of the level. It’s incredibly interactive and further complements the next best facet of Little Nightmares, it’s atmosphere.
It’s so fucking creepy and I loved every ounce of it. The Maw is an exceptionally dark and dreary place. This heavy veil of grisly tension gradually intensifies with each new discovery that the little girl makes on the ship, which is further amplified by the shadow-tinged shades of blues, greens, greys, and blacks. Then in another situation, the colour scheme shifts to something bright, contrasting in shades of yellows, oranges, and reds. It doesn’t change the ominous atmosphere, but merely brings it out from the shadows. This works to shove the player to the edge of their seat because you can almost feel it in your bones that something godawful is about to happen. Her little yellow raincoat becomes the only beacon of hope in the whole of the Maw. Visually, it’s super breath-taking. Mentally, it’s wholly discomforting.
The sound effects and careful placement of haunting musical score used in light offerings work in conjunction with the visuals and artistry to bring that hopeless environment to life. There were plenty of times while playing, when Gabs and I forgot it was video game. It was like we were living the story ourselves, which makes the jump-scares more chilling and the boss monsters ghastlier.
Terrifying Boss Monsters
The originality of the boss monsters is what I appreciated the most about them. Each one has a very special and fucked-up aspect to them that helps with inducing horror, more so when their roles in the Maw comes into the light. For example, one of them has excessively long arms, so when the little girl is running for him, his reach towards her is the very definition of life and death. The fight that involved him had an insanely petrifying musical score to it that matched his movements perfectly. So, if you missed an opportunity at doing damage, that in and of itself would sometimes become a special brand of jump-scare. When the solution to defeating him becomes apparent, it’s almost as jaw-dropping as understanding what it is that he does in the Maw.
I remember that after we finished fighting him, my heart was just racing for a while because the fight was so bloody intense and the aftermath of what we had to resort to was emotionally jarring, which further plays into the overall tale.
A Whole Lot of Fun
This game is fucking scary and remarkably captures the essence of grim horror storytelling. Even though it can be emotionally daunting and sometimes even a bit stressful, it’s so much fucking fun to play. It caught me off guard with it’s design and the scope of what is portrayed in a mere ten to twelve hours. The artistry of the level designs is seemingly simplistic, but the depths to the details is outstanding. The music and the way it contributes to the anxiety of moving forward in the game is completely on point. The puzzles are intellectually satisfying and so beautifully deranged. The allegories that is left in the wake of the final credits is marvellously contemplative and actually encourages the player to go back and play it again almost immediately to explore more depths of it.
Little Nightmares really reminded me of why I love horror games so much to begin with. It’s a wild fucking ride, bro. Wild fucking ride and I can’t wait to experience it again. If you haven’t played Little Nightmares yet, then I highly recommend you do so. It’s available on a plethora of consoles too (PlayStation 4, XBOX One, PC, Nintendo Switch), making it quite accessible for whatever platform floats your fancy.
Little Nightmares – Steam
Little Nightmares – GOG
Little Nightmares – Nintendo
Little Nightmares – PlayStation 4
Little Nightmares – XBOX One