From its promotional materials, I assumed Little Nightmares would be a cute, perhaps even quaint game—maybe something tonally along the lines of a creepier Little Big Planet or a Tim Burton film. Just a few minutes into the game, I realized I had it all wrong, and I’m so glad. Honestly, Little Nightmares is unlike anything I’ve played before, so it’s difficult to throw around comparisons. You seriously need to experience it for yourself. Here’s what you’ll love about it:
The gameplay is intuitive. You’re not torn out of the game by tutorials or prompts. You’re dumped into a dark world, alone to figure things out through trial and error. This is gameplay mechanics as they should be. I don’t need a map of the controller to remind me what all the buttons do, and I don’t need to customize any cumbersome in-screen dashboards. (I’m looking at you Breath of the Wild. I love you, but OMG. Chill.) Little Nightmares is clean, with nothing on the screen to distract you from the story, along with natural-feeling controls.
I gravitate towards hair-raising games with ambient lighting. I was all about P.T. and I’ve placed Bioshock on a shiny pedestal. But the imagery of Little Nightmares blows everything else away. Carefully-placed light sources illuminate areas with seemingly-real, beautiful texture. You can even see lighting respond in mirrors and puddles with such subtle sophistication you’ll gasp in spite of yourself. So much care went into the smallest details. You’ll find yourself lingering in dark hallways and tunnels to see how your light source reacts to the environment.
This is such a small note, but it makes a big difference: moving from different parts of the game or “levels” does not require loading screens. Instead, levels are dynamically loaded when you’re in areas such as elevators. It’s so smart. And cut-scenes are sparse. This lends singular fluidity to the game, an important element when the tension-building, eerie details add so much depth to the story and sheer joy to the gameplay. You feel like you’re in the space and anything could sneak up on you at any moment.
4. Creature Design
Let’s not go into too many details about the creatures you’ll encounter, because I want to avoid spoilers. Honestly, it’s shocking to see some of the grotesque and mysterious entities for the first time. If I were you, I’d avoid watching trailers and just play the game cold turkey. For large chunks of the game, you’re alone, but you soon encounter lots of peculiar beings with haunting designs and frightening skills. It’s chilling and wonderful.
The captivating, well-paced story of Little Nightmares makes the game worth your time, even if you’re not “into horror” and even if you don’t care too much about visual elements. With other games, I’ve logged long hours, only to be disappointed by a game’s twists, usually reserved until the end, when it’s too late to walk away. Sometimes it feels like games are mocking me. Throughout Little Nightmares, the narrative keeps you curious and hungry for answers as you continually peel back layers along your joruney, but the ending leaves you feeling satisfied, maybe even a little giddy.
6. Main Character
Your avatar appears to be a non-gendered, androgynous kid in a yellow rain coat. Since playing the game, I’ve discovered that it’s supposed to be a little girl. But I like that gender never comes up in the game, and it’s left ambiguous. Too many games only allow for traditionally-male main characters, while a few games allow you to choose a female avatar. But it’s difficult to find gender-neutral humans in video games, and I still like to think of the main character in this game as neither male nor female.
If you’ve played Little Nightmares, let me know what you thought! And tell me what else I should be playing, based on my love of the macabre.