Before I begin this semi-review, semi-not-a-review post in earnest, allow me to state the obvious: you’re undoubtedly going to hear Little Nightmares in the same conversations you hear about Limbo and Inside in some ways. Ignore that chatter. Little Nightmares may strike some similar chords to what Playdead has done with their past titles, however it is in no way striking the same tone or note in what experiences it attempts to convey.
Yes, there are the similar tropes that come with dark games and brooding environments featuring dire and grotesque consequences for any unwary and unwelcome traveler. There are ultimately gruesome ends your adorable character can meet and plenty of equally gruesome foes to send her there. Environmental hazards and puzzles come in equal numbers and the mere use of light and darkness is more than enough to set the tone for each stage of the short yet endearing exploration.
If you’re into platforming puzzle titles that also feature palpable amounts of ambiance and relevant horrors and low-key fears that will probably make you cringe once you realize the extent of their depth and attention to detail, then Little Nightmares will rock your socks off. Or knock them off and freeze you with fear. Perhaps the most exciting component in the game is that it leaves pretty much everything except what you see with your own eyes quite ambiguous in an almost ‘Souls’ sort of way (of handling lore)- minus the bloody scratch marks on the ground everywhere.
Ambiguity permeates the entire experience and makes it a more convincing and exceptionally interesting one for that matter. You aren’t even given so much as maybe the occasional hint to rotate the camera around if you get stuck, however the rest of the controls are never exactly specified and so it’s up to you to learn the ropes. The experience perfectly meshes both two-dimensional and three-dimensional perspective into a very well thought out 2.5D platforming puzzler.
Although you are very definitely little and dwarfed by the surroundings you will encounter, there is nothing little at all about the immense nightmarish rogues you will inevitably face or flee. Because you cannot fight back in most cases, there is always an air of tension and terror whenever these foes enter the picture and you must fly through some puzzle or another and make it to the next area. I’m still quite shocked at how well thought out each room is and how each area ratchets up the tension and the screen literally crawls with the sound effects and slight background happenings as well.
Little Nightmares is a game that will easily catch you if you pay too much attention to your surroundings, but will ironically let you escape its clutches time and time again should you not find yourself entirely caught up in the warped reality it presents. For the most part the puzzle and platform gameplay never gets too difficult and so the entire experience is perfectly accessible, enjoyable, and entirely worthwhile in my opinion. The presentation itself will pique your curiosity and then the events themselves, as they unfold, should firmly grasp it and drag you into the experience.
The vivid imagery and scenes steal the show almost when coupled with the eerie and daunting soundtrack accompaniment. Oftentimes you may stumble onto a new area and not even notice the body dangling from a rope overhead with its feet just barely visible or the faint outline of a shadow shuffling hurriedly in the background. It’s the moments like that that add to the feeling that someone is always watching and that every skittering motion on screen is some new devilish foe come to rend your flesh or curdle your blood.
Needless to say, Little Nightmares isn’t your typical horror game and it’s much better for that fact. Ambiguity is the name of the game and the game itself will wear you out each and every time you think you’ve understood its nature- right up until the very end. You can feel free to stop and stare at the beautiful surroundings any time, however it still has a relatively run time and as such is a compact and entirely artistic and expressive experience.
If I were to apply my typical review material and run down the brief checklist of everything I tend to go through in those lengthy posts, Little Nightmares would be getting no less than a 9.5 out of 10 from me. It’s entirely deserving of that and a highly replayable experience if only to see the little touches that you’ll pick up with each runthrough here and there.