It’s no secret that, upon first glance, Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares evokes similarities to Playdead’s Limbo and Inside. Ever since Limbo‘s release in 2010, the indie game community has been impacted significantly. Not just because of its quality, but because it took what people expected from a platformer and achieved something wholly unique. The monochrome presentation has been used countless times since then and other developers have attempted to mimic the same discomforting atmosphere that the game is perhaps best known for. While Little Nightmares does follow this particularly niche trend of dark, eerie platformers with a child as the protagonist, labeling Tarsier Studios’ new title as a Playdead wannabe would be undermining the more unique elements that they’ve conjured up.
Released in April, Little Nightmares is described as a “puzzle-platformer horror adventure game” in which you play as Six – a young girl trapped in a a mysterious vessel called The Maw. Throughout the experience, the player navigates different sections of The Maw, each distinctly different and frightening. I don’t want to give any of these away, because every section introduces a distinct new theme that progresses the game’s narrative through clever world building. Each section also features stealth sequences in which Six must avoid a specific monster/creature. These stealth sections are a large bulk of the game, especially in the later levels. While some puzzles require the player to act stealthily in order to complete them, the game emphasizes horror much more than a platformer such as Inside, which explored its themes in a more abstract manner.
These stealth sections are successfully unnerving and very fun to play, thanks to responsive controls. The puzzles themselves are straightforward – even the most inexperienced at puzzle-solving will have little trouble. In fact, the only time I ever found myself stumped during the experience was due to me assuming the solution was far more complicated than it really was.
The game also doesn’t play like a traditional 2D platformer. The camera is reminiscent of 2D titles, but Six and the other characters are able to move in the foreground and background. This can become a bit tricky to navigate during some sections where the camera pans back, as it sometimes caused me to plummet to my death. It’s a minor issue for me, however, as these cinematic sequences feature some of the most striking imagery in the game.
I love the way the narrative evolves throughout the title. Much like Playdead’s games, you start off, quite literally, in the dark. However, the game’s world slowly reveals itself in a way that I found consistently rewarding and surprising. This is thanks to the game’s fantastic atmosphere. Honestly, it’s one of the most original game settings I’ve experienced in years and I was always eager to continue exploring. The camerawork makes every room you step in feel as if you’re trapped in some sort of warped dollhouse. The music is unique, with some chilling childlike soundscapes and voices. There is no dialogue throughout, so relying on the sounds of enemies and the environment is the key to survival. The first time you hear an enemy charge after you is more than enough to get your heart racing.
Little Nightmares’ minor flaws don’t hold it back from being a fun and creepy platformer. Rather than relying on trial and error, I enjoyed how the game encourages the player to mess around with objects in the environment and even with the monsters looking for you. It’s a nice change of pace from the head-scratching puzzles typically found in these types of games. However, due to the fact that the game is easy AND short (it took me about 4 hours), I’m certain that some people won’t be too happy about paying the $20 price tag. For me, however, I continue to find myself invested in the ever-growing collection of atmospheric puzzle-platformers. While Little Nightmares might not be quite as impactful as Limbo or Inside, I believe it fits right in with some of the better, similar titles on the market.