Amazon had been recommending “Little Nightmares” to me for months before I finally just bit the bullet and ordered it. The Amazon description told me next to nothing about the product, and I had heard absolutely zero word of mouth hype about the game. Still, I kept checking the Amazon page as it kept being highly recommended to me. Even after the pre-orders were done, Amazon kept suggesting that I would like “Little Nightmares” based on my purchase history. So, I thought I’d check it out. Take a look with me.
“Little Nightmares” suffers from an incredibly vague plotline. The player controls a character apparently named Six (judging by the extras that came with my copy of the game, rather than anything within the game itself). Six wakes up on a boat inhabited by grotesque monsters where everything is far larger than her. In fact, her relative size seems to shift from one room to the next. On average though, Six appears to be about the size of a cat. The story is the game’s first major stumbling block in that it seems like there is a fairly strong story here that the game just does not want to tell to the player as they progress through the game.
The visuals are where “Little Nightmares” absolutely knocks it out of the park. The game looks like a claymation film (specifically in the style of Henry Selick). Things are dark, but never too dark to be an impediment to the player. The “monsters” aboard the boat are all hideous, but in an incredibly stylized way rather than settling for a cheap grotesqueness. Furthermore, the way that Six is animated is absolutely brilliant. There is so much attention paid to detail, like the way that Six clutches herself when she is not feeling well. Perhaps the game’s most brilliant visual touch is the way that Six acts when the player dies and respawns. In this situation, rather than simply appear at the last checkpoint, Six is shown awaking from a nightmare just like she did at the beginning of the game. There are a thousand other little visual cues that I could go into. Point is: this game is visually brilliant.
The sound of “Little Nightmares” is genius, too. It manages the very rare nearly seamless incorporation of sound effects and soundtrack. The game has sound effects and it has music, but the former incorporates into the latter near perfectly. There is almost never a stray sound to be found in this game, it all helps to build the game’s amazing atmosphere. The game also makes amazing use of the PS4’s rumble feature, using it to signal the character’s terror when a monster approaches, exertion when climbing, and more. This is rather brilliant since it chooses to favor a tactile rather than auditory cue for these events, meaning that there is far less opportunity for an important sound effect to get lost in the mix.
Gameplay is where “Little Nightmares” just completely shits the bed. While the plot, visual design, and sound engineering are all brilliant, the gameplay is at its very best bog standard. It does absolutely nothing above what many other 2.5D platformers have done. In fact, this game could effectively be made into a 2D platformer with absolutely no depth of gameplay being lost. It’s a 2D side-scrolling platformer in which the player occasionally has to move toward the camera. There are puzzles but they never leave the player trying to figure out what to do. Instead, they simply make the player figure out how to accomplish the game’s obvious intended solution. It seems almost like the game’s developers would rather have made a film than a game.
“Little Nightmares” has its share of absolute brilliance. However, it is severely bogged down by the fact that it is a game and not a movie. I find myself wishing that the developers had maybe used their funds toward creating a stop-motion short instead of a game. That being said, this game offers a stylistic experience unlike anything else. I actually don’t find myself regretting purchasing the physical release with its statuette and other extras, if only because I am so enraptured by this game’s style. If you want that particular style and don’t care too much about how it plays, this is definitely a game worth checking out.