To the uninitiated, Tarsier Studios Little Nightmares seems to be little more than another Limbo clone. Taking players on another journey through a series of fucked up locales in which a helpless child is beset by vicious traps, ghoulish nightmare fuel and the occasional head scratcher which can be overcome with the power of physics.
like Limbo and other physics based chld i scary world platformers most the bulk of the game play involves manipulating the environment to reach new areas, pulling blocks, clambering up the environment and tossing items at switches.
But after spending some time with Little Nightmares at a recent hands-on event held at Bandai Namco’s London HQ, I think it would be better described as Little Big Planet’s Evil-Twin, instead in this case it’s more of a claustrophobic never-ending horror. If that doesn’t get you a wee bit excited platforming fans, I don’t know what will.
The demo opened with our somewhat adorable protagonist in a little yellow raincoat stood, Six, at the bottom of a long staircase with a light at the end in what appeared to be the bows of a ship. Though I couldn’t be certain, as the game gave no indication to where I was, or why I was there (A bit like a nightmare). But while light generally signals safety in most games, in little Nightmares this often isn’t the case.
The threat of capture of death lurk around every corner, and even in its quieter moments Little Nightmare’s muted colour palette, and cluttered, disproportionate environments juxtaposed by the tiny, brightly clad protagonist heighten the game’s oppressive and lonely tone.
Creeping into a small brightly lit cabin, complete with pull out bed and towering bookshelves it didn’t appear all that horrific, but it’s the incidental yet unsettling details that the game doesn’t telegraph that really hit home and continue to burn into your mind hours after play – The picture of the creature in a bowler hat on the wall, the straps on the bed, the silhouette of the suicide victim swinging from the ceiling.
After a performing some physics based platforming in the LBP/ Limbo mould and a lift ride later our protagonist found themselves in what appeared to be a wind tunnel. Shivering from cold and with only the eery moans of the wind and the tiny pitter patter of bare feet she pushed onwards.
It’s at this point that some long clawing arms reached out from the darkness and snatched her.
Awaking in a cage, the monstrous visage of the nightmarish creature I now had to escape from looked like a blind, goblinoid Freddy Kruger as reimagined by Henry Selnick, in fact the entre look and feel of Little Nightmares is oddly reminsent of the famed stop-motion director’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. One scene clambering through a vent with only a flick lighter providing a tiny aura of light brought the films poster to mind.
What struck me about this section was how increasingly disturbing it became with each successive room. As the environment progressively gave away more clues to the character of the thing desperately trying to recapture the barefooted girl in the rain coat. A room full of creepy dolls, about the size and frame of the girl, the small creatures hung on meat hooks in another space. Did it want to eat her, or fashion her into some kind of plaything. The mystery, and my desire to get Six to safety deepened.
The most poignant moment happened near the end of my time with the game though when Six found herself in the ships dank hold, a hold full of simple leather shoes and old sleeper trunk style suitcases. It reminded me of the Auschwitz museum. Now I don’t know whether this was intentional, but being chased through that sea of discarded shoes and the thoughts and feelings it kicks up. It was subtle, deeply horrifying and nightmarish in a way that I really wasn’t expecting and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since.
If this is just a taste of the kind of horror and larger themes that Tarsier are attempting to tackle with Little Nightmares, it could prove to be one of this year’s most unsettling and intelligent horror titles.
Little Nightmares is out 28th April for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.