We all have nightmares now and again, but rarely do we have as terrible a day as the inhabitants of the Maw. With Little Nightmares II set to release in about 2 months time (see our article about it here), let’s take a trip back to where it all began and see what the Maw and Six have to show us in Tarsier Studios’ first game, Little Nightmares.
1 - Visuals
This game, and the further games in the series, go for a very niche aesthetic, and they absolutely nail it on the head. With Six’s diminutive size, the odd proportions of the world and the enemies within it feel like a haunted dollhouse, a mix of childhood wonder and adventure mixed with the horror of something corrupted and wrong. The dingy and dusty rooms and the almost-claymation-like feel of the characters and Nomes give a strange uncanny-valley-like taste to the game, which enhances the horror and survival experience.
Nearly every room acts as a tableau, telling a larger story and setting a larger scene of the world at large. As there is little-to-no voice acting in the game (and no dialogue,) it relies heavily on visual cues to convey meaning, painting tragic or grotesque scenes through environment design and character design, which is highly effective.
For a unique and effective style, 5 stars.
2 - Audio
Since Little Nightmares is a game so focused on environmental design and storytelling, it makes sense for the audio design to be equally thought-out and planned. With a continuing motif of eerie music boxes, the audio design of this game works to leave the player on edge as they roam vast environments, making use of echoing tones and vibrations to hint at the scale of the space. Distant rumbles and clangs build the shape of the large ship the game takes place in, hinting at distant movement and actions far beyond your control, while the relative silence of gameplay is used to highlight the footsteps of the player and the enemies, often highlighting the isolation, loneliness, and danger towards the main character.
Musical motifs are also heavily present for two recurring ideas in the game to great effect. The first, Hunger, is a repeated theme during moments of desperation and, aptly enough, hunger. The second is the theme of the main antagonist of the ship, The Lady, humming away as the source of Six’s nightmares, leading to an absolutely terrifying scene when you have to sneak past her later in the game.
For a chilling experience and excellent marriage to story and visuals, Audio receives 5 stars.
3 - Story/Progression
As mentioned before, there is no verbal dialogue in Little Nightmares, and no in-game documents or messages either. The entire story is conveyed through audio and visual clues, to great effect. But then, how do we know anything regarding names, like Six, or The Maw?
In addition to the ever-classic fandom Wiki, Bandai Namco has an official page for Little Nightmares, with character names and titles, descriptions, and hints at larger lore implications laid out for easy viewing. It also allows players to receive news updates and posts on the progress of future titles, such as the work on Little Nightmares II.
For an interesting story, though partially only accessible outside of the game itself, Story gets 4.5 stars.
4 - Gameplay
My only real complaint with the game is in the gameplay, or more accurately, the controls. With games dependent on movement such as walking on thin pathways or climbing narrow ladders while escaping danger in tense chase scenes, it’s very important to have tight controls. However, the controls in Little Nightmares can occasionally feel unreliable and difficult to use with precision. The sense of depth in a space may cause you to leap just short of the platform you were aiming for, or misjudge a distance, misplacing your footing on a tricky bit of climbing.
With promises of a better control system and tighter gameplay in Little Nightmares II, the original receives 3.5 stars.
5 - Context
Upon release, Little Nightmares did pretty well for an international indie title, and released a spin-off title for mobile called Very Little Nightmares in 2019. The main game has an associated comic series, expanding on the lore and the setting of the original game, and with an active and enthusiastic fan community ready for the sequel, its safe to say that this game was popular enough to merit a look, even if dark-action-adventure-horror isn’t your cup of tea.
For a solid community and genre adherence, Context gets 4 stars.
Little Nightmares is a highly atmospheric dark adventure game that has garnered a comic, a spin-off title, and a sequel in the works. The visual and audio design work to convey a haunting storyworld or corruption and hunger, and I can’t wait to see how Taiser Studios expands on these themes in their upcoming titles.