Little Nightmares is a horror game produced by Tarsier Studios, and it's one of 2017's hidden gems. The game relies on a marvelously creepy setting, clever puzzles, and a genuinely hair-raising cast of miss-fitted monsters to deliver its hits, resulting in a creative foray into a strange dollhouse-like world that never seems forced. Little Nightmares is strangely beautiful, and players will likely find it just as artistic and creative as Limbo, with the latter's shadows replaced by a blend of colors, somber tones, or complete darkness wherever appropriate. More importantly, the game is a delightfully creepy puzzler from start to finish.
Players don the role of Six, a lost little girl deep in the depths of The Maw. It's a ship of gargantuan proportion full of monstrous guests and dark corners, and Six only has her wits and a lighter to guide her to safety. She can interact with objects, dragging and throwing them around with no small amount of effort for someone of her size.
Each chapter brings its own creepy vibe, and with each new stage brings a new shuffling horror to hide from: make no mistake, some of the puzzles will involve terrifying pursuits in which Six has no real defense, bringing a similar level of hide-and-seek horror one that one gets with Amnesia: The Dark Decent. The rest of the puzzles are tricky (but not too complex), fun, and likely to involve several deaths as players find the right path to safety.
Little Nightmares succeeds as a puzzler not only because each task keeps gamers thinking, but because Tarsier Studios seemingly never has gamers doing the same thing twice: each step to securing Six's freedom is unique, and each problem must be solved in a new way. Whether players are grinding comparatively giant meats to make a sausage-rope swing or attempting to steal a key from a bumbling butcher in order to reach the next room, every task is shamelessly foreboding and entertaining. Hearing the scream of a monster and knowing one has to either hide or escape before it bursts in the room is downright horrifying, and so is watching Six do what she needs to do in order to progress through The Maw.
Tarsier Studios has previously worked on LittleBigPlanet, and this is evident through the game's level of creativity as players progress through the game's five chapters. Every chapter is just as unpredictable as the next, with the game purporting a creepy dollhouse vibe that the camera system plays upon as players sneak glimpses into the adjacent rooms. The game's accompanying soundtrack is both catchy and disturbing, and does well to compliment the uncomfortable vibe the game's world does so well to deliver. This is a world of miss-matched shapes and oddities, lending more precedent to the feeling that Six feels drastically out of place.
Of course, there are a few blemishes to the otherwise wonderful construct that is Little Nightmares. The controls can occasionally feel clumsy, and the depth of field is hard to discern on occasion. Both of these will likely lead players to a few undue deaths, but the issue isn't prevalent enough to diminish the experience as a whole. This works because the game's setting does raise some sinister questions when one ponders who the ship's guests are, or think about why that waste shoot was full of hundreds of pairs of shoes. Like most horrors one finds in Little Nightmares, it's best not think about the consequences and just try to find a way out.
Truthfully, players will finish the game not knowing if all of the game's grotesque horrors were truly evil, and a few key moments in Little Nightmares will make those who complete the game stop and ponder the bigger picture. All of the inhabitants of The Maw seem to be keeping themselves busy with some arduous task or another, implying this seems like a regular day for the inhabitants of The Maw - which is a terrifying thought in itself, and one that garners no real answer from the game.
While the game is immensely exciting to play, players will likely find that Little Nightmares brings a runtime more akin to a spooky nap than a full-fledged nightmare. Most players will complete the entire experience in 4-5 hours, with the latter half of the game going by at a staggering pace. Tarsier Studios made up for a lack of quantity with a polished amount of quality, though the game ends quite abruptly - those who ventured through the Maw will likely be left hungry for more, especially since the pace picks up drastically in the final two chapters.
Ultimately, Little Nightmares strikes a fine chord between charming and creepy in a way that perhaps only a former LittleBigPlanet developer could do. The game knows when a delicate touch is needed in terms of creepiness, and conversely gets the adrenaline going when things go from zero to sixty as a gelatinous humanoid biped suddenly decides Six would make a good lunch. Each chapter has its own compartmentalized style and every challenge brings something new to the table, resulting in a satisfying puzzler with a deep shine of polish. Little Nightmares is a must-have for puzzle fans everywhere, so long as they don't mind imagining long creeping hands coming out of every shadow they see afterwards.
Little Nightmares releases on April 28, 2017 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Game Rant was provided an Xbox One code for this review.