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The debut title from the Swedish independent developer Tarsier Studios, having previously worked to support games such as Tearaway and Little Big Planet, finally let’s us see what they are capable of producing when given the freedom to do so. The result being a puzzle platformer that mixes grotesque imagery with elements of horror to create certainly one of the more original worlds in gaming.
Set in “The Maw,” the strange vessel serves as both a prison for children and a resort for its guests to gorge themselves on culinary delights served by the cooks working under the rule of the Geisha-styled owner known only as “The Lady.” Just don’t ask what’s in the sausage.
Playing as the yellow raincoat-clad nine-year-old known only as Six, who having woken up in the depths of the Maw, now has to find a way to escape as she works her way up the levels to a final confrontation with The Lady. Along the way, she discovers many of the dark secrets that The Maw hides within its confines. At the same time it is a story much like Playdead’s Inside, in that it is told completely without dialogue with each new area that Six makes her through revealing more of the story.
With no means to defend herself as Six you have to instead rely on her small size to hide and sneak past the various dangers which stand in her way, from blood sucking leaches through to the long armed blind janitor and chefs who all want to capture Six. Even when we get into the dining hall the danger is only increased as the guests clearly keen to continually shovel food into their mouth are just as eager to devour Six if given the chance. Something which worryingly happens on several occasions with Six being forced to run past dining halls and even across table tops which puts her in close proximity to the guests.
These frequent set pieces really add to the immersive experience of the game, which while short at around 4 – 6 hours playtime doesn’t in many ways feel that your being somehow cheated out of a longer game. The world is so immersive that it can at times feel like you’re playing through a film, much like we have seen with the aforementioned Inside, as well as Firewatch. As such, the big set pieces has Six running past diners as they scramble to grab her or chase her through the kitchens, which ends with Six escaping on the kitchen’s overhead hooks like a mini James Bond, are genuinely exciting to play through, even if they don’t allow for the smallest of slip up’s on the player’s part.
Here in lies one of the main issues with the game in that far too often its controls can be less responsive that we would have liked. In particular, the were a number of jump and grab segments where Six just wouldn’t grab the wall, often sending us back to replay the same sections over which can at times makes for a frustrating experience.
While the game might seem short with its runtime, much like Firewatch and most certainly Inside, if this game were longer it would run the risk of taking away from the immersive experience that it builds so instead Tarsier Studios have crafted a memorable story that will find your puzzling over what it was about, including the smaller details long after the credits have rolled. There is however a prequel comic book in production at the time of writing, but it remains to be seen if this will add or take away from this world. The game currently works well without everything being spoon-fed to the player.
A fiercely-unique experience, this is another game which needs to be played, though at the same time it’s almost cinematic style means that it’s no doubt just as enjoyable to watch. As one of our most anticipated games of the year, it’s great to see it live up to the hype. Still, for those of you who finished Inside and were left craving more, this certainly makes for a great companion game while having enough originality to stand on its own warped little merits
Game description: Little Nightmares is a 2017 puzzle-platformer horror game about a little girl who must escape a mysterious vessel called The Maw.