What are little nightmares made of? Darkness and steel. Empty corridors. Askew rooms. Crawling inside air ducts on your knees. Closed doors. Filthy bathrooms. Still mannequins. Abandoned toys. Endlessly long arms reaching for you. Cold storage rooms. Blood and flesh. Hunger. Terrible hunger. Not only yours but theirs. Theirs! Eating something. Eating something alive! Reflection. Death. Light. Loneliness. Oh, the loneliness... The mind starts playing tricks. Oh yes, the tricks. To fool them. Escape. Kill! Eat! Kill and eat! All these are what Little Nightmares made of.
A little girl wakes up somewhere. We wouldn't even know her name is Six if the external sources hadn't told us so. You see, there isn't even a single word written or uttered in the game. Six is dressed only in a yellow raincoat, a big hood covering her features. With her bare and skinny legs she starts wandering forth. There has to be a way out of this strange and oppressive place. A seemingly endless corridor, connecting out-of-place bedrooms, machine rooms, storages and kitchens, stretches out little by little by Six's fumbling actions. Only a lighter illuminates her journey.
Little Nightmares is foremost a piece of art. Everything else comes second. The game takes its obvious visual cue from two French movies from the 90's, Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. The surreal, dream-like world of Little Nightmares, with its grotesque inhabitants and disturbing set pieces painted in deep shadows and distorted lightning, is too similar to those fantastic movies to be a mere coincidence. The cinematic feel of Little Nightmares is enhanced by slightly offset colors, off focus and film grain, making the game look like it's a movie shot on a film stock. A deliberately minimalist soundscape gives the visuals a center stage.
As a game, Little Nightmares is a mix of platforming, some physical puzzles and some adventuring, but they're all stripped-down. Six advances mostly from left to right, entering empty rooms and facing sinister, staged encounters from which she has to trick herself out or simply run as fast as her little legs can carry. Sometimes she's just shivering from a terrible hunger, but it's scripted and never gets in the way. Advancing inside whatever Six is trapped in is often based on an unholy trinity of try, die and repeat. The game isn't exactly hard and most puzzles are easy to apprehend, but sluggish controls can make the timing and placing in more vigorous scenes unnecessarily laborious.
The horror element in Little Nightmares isn't based on jump scares or other cheap thrills; it's the oppressing atmosphere that gives the goose bumps. The game gradually rises its tempo, and the penultimate chapter is almost a constant chase. After a few hours (under two, when played for the second time with the gained experience), the game closes just at the right beat before it becomes repetitive. During that time we have seen some disturbing scenes, not only from the menace that Six faces, but also born out of the basic necessity to nourish yourself. As fragile and touching Six appears to be, her actions get some eerie determination toward the end of the game. And that's what's really scary.
Little Nightmares is based entirely on its visual appearance but at the same time it couldn't exist as anything else but a game. Unfortunately, it's the insecure practicalities of the gaming mechanics that somewhat detract from an otherwise sublime performance. Full of subdued innuendo, Little Nightmares is like a demented puppet show or diorama, somehow lifelike but at the same time disturbingly artificial. It certainly doesn't look like your typical game and is a nightmare worth experiencing.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.