I've always wondered what game started the “little kid being chased by scary stuff" genre. Clock Tower? Grabbed by the Ghoulies? Jr. Pac-Man? It wasn’t the most popular genre back in the day, but in recent times there seem to be more and more titles with this subject. No doubt, Limbo had a major effect, giving this obscure genre a boost in the arm. And it’s a great concept for a game. Little kids are virtually helpless. And when you’re young, the world’s a scary place. Putting a young, scared, practically helpless kid in horrific surroundings ramps up the tension quite a bit. Think about it—would you rather be an unarmed 10-year-old being chased by zombies, or a heavily armed adult? Easy choice!
And the latest entry in this genre and one of the prettiest is Little Nightmares. Well, pretty is kind of an odd word to use for game that is a horrific and oppressive as this one, but it is beautiful in a very disturbing way.
In the game, you play as a child who is trying to escape a nightmarish world armed with only a lighter. Luckily, the monstrous inhabitants that are out to kill you aren’t that bright or are missing some of their senses. This gives you a fighting chance, and you’ll need it because if they catch you, it’s a quick neck snap and you're dead.
While a lighter is your only tool, you are able to run, jump, crawl, climb and interact with objects. But this is all you'll need to traverse this horrible world as you're just small enough to fit through holes in the wall, crawl through air ducts, and go other places only little children can. However, being small also means you're feeble and totally unable to fight back against anything that comes your way.
The game is a 2D/3D hybrid, meaning it’s 3D rendered and you can move any direction in a room, but only so much. There’s a fixed camera and you’re basically moving from right to left or vice-versa to get through areas. You can move the camera around a bit to get a better look at stuff, but not a lot. This works most of the time, but occasionally the perspective is off and you’ll find yourself randomly missing jumps or just literally walking off stuff and falling to your doom. But there’s not much of a penalty for death, you always respawn close to where you die.
It’s a very forgiving game, overall. The puzzles are basic and there are not that many things you can interact with in each room, so figuring out how to get to the next room is usually pretty obvious. And I’m terrible at figuring out puzzles, I’ll be the first to admit that. The stealth segments are also easy as the enemies are usually dimwitted, or in some cases totally blind and can only hear or smell you. There’s a bit of platforming too, but nothing too demanding.
While the puzzles and overall gameplay aren’t hard, the game’s real strength is the atmosphere. It truly is nightmarish. It's a very dark game with ominous-looking shadows everywhere. That's where your lighter comes in handy. It’s not only useful for finding important stuff, it has a psychological effect of cheering you up a bit by banishing the gloom. And there is plenty of gloom! Including piles of dead bodies and macabre things around every corner. The game makes it very obvious someone is raising children, slaughtering them and serving them up as meals. Aside from the disturbing premise, another creepy aspect of the game is the constant disorienting rocking. It’s clear you’re on a ship and the camera and objects slowly move from side to side in a slightly nauseating way. Add to all this some creepy music and sound effects and you have yourself a thoroughly oppressive atmosphere.
The enemies are also horrific. Disgusting creatures, filthy and cruel. One of the most unsettling ones is a blind guy in a hat who looks like the skin on his face has been partially pulled down. He has impossibly long arms that seem to be constantly feeling for you everywhere you go. Another one that will upset your stomach are the morbidly obese pig-like chefs. Dirt-covered shambling masses of meat, these nightmare kitchen chefs are faster than they look. If they see you, they'll let out a squeal and then stuff you in the nearest oven without at second thought.
If you’re a fan of horror games or the “little kids being chased by scary stuff” genre, Little Nightmares is worth your time. It won’t give you much of a challenge, but it will give you a lot of creepy entertainment and maybe even a real life little nightmare or two.
Hint: The long-armed guys are totally blind! But they can hear and smell you. Keep that in mind when sneaking around.
by Urian Brown
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