Not even a year out, and Little Nightmares is already gaining cult status for its macabre imagery and disturbing implications of its story…
|Console||PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One|
|Publisher||Bandai Namco Entertainment|
|Genre||Platformer, puzzle, horror, indie|
|Purchase (PC)||Purchase from Steam.|
|Purchase (PS4)||Purchase from Amazon.|
|Purchase (Xbox One)||Purchase from Amazon.|
Don’t you just love the happy, creative, colorful worlds of artistic platformers like LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway? Well, let’s take one of the developers of those series and suck all that happiness out, leaving behind uncanny valley levels of horror in its wake.
And the ending product? Little Nightmares! Prepare your stomach, because some of this imagery can get real nasty.
Escaping the Maw
Admittedly, I never even heard of Little Nightmares until the game’s actual release. Somehow, news of a game called Hunger never reached me, before it got its name changed. Still, I managed to discover the game on time before this month so I had the chance to play it. So let’s see if the new IP of Tarsier Studios began with a nice bang.
We begin our macabre tale in a mysterious location called the Maw, where a little girl in a raincoat was having nightmares about a shadowy woman.
Well, that’s a great start. Is a kidnapping our next objective? Are we going to turn little kids into donkeys and sell them?
…What? Not my fault you didn’t know the story of Pinnochio.
This little girl is referred to as Six. Why Six? I guess she’s Child No. 6, since there are other children in the Maw? Well, who knows. You’re looking at one of those platformers with minimal storytelling. All you have is the visuals for context. Good god, some freaky visuals. But context is definitely there…
Six is mostly defenseless, being smaller than most living things lurking in the Maw. Like, seriously. She’s not even tall enough to reach the knobs for most doors. Makes you wonder if the Maw was a world of giants or Six is some sort of Lilliputian.
So you only have your wits about you, as you explore a sinister world while solving puzzles along the way.
Hmm. A small child in a dangerous realm (possibly a dystopian world) where she must avoid traps and other weird things out to kill her? Boy, doesn’t that sound familiar…
It seems my comparison is on point, as this game does have a bit of a mechanical nightmare theme. Nothing like giant eyeballs with the gaze of Medusa turning helpless children into stone.
My stupid jokes aside, we’re just getting started here. We’re going to see why this game is called Little Nightmares.
Don’t Let Them See You…
So if you’re not creeped out by this point, then you will be once you see the actual THINGS chasing you. The monsters are humanoid in appearance, but have this disgusting and organic quality to them. It’s like their skin isn’t their own, but rather they’re wearing the skin of humans. All pale, wrinkly and even flabby. It’s just… ugh. And that’s not even factoring in the disproportionate body types and animalistic noises they make.
But seriously, well done with the environments and character models in this game. These are some unnerving visuals for sure. And the fact that the monsters look like they were human once adds in that extra touch of uncanny valley.
Oh god, just uggggh!
When you’re not taking in the oppressive atmosphere of the Maw, you’re treated to some rather disgusting imagery. Every time you see meat in this game, you just feel queasy looking at it. You’re not even sure where that meat came from, but you have this distinct feeling on where it may come from. Even when the meat is cooked, it has this goopy, unappealing texture that makes manure seem less appalling.
Well done, Tarsier. I wasn’t able to eat meat for a while. Thanks…
Man, I wouldn’t eat anything that grinder produces…
Without trying to sound too redundant, Little Nightmares is a puzzle platformer in a similar vein to LIMBO and INSIDE. The difference here is that Little Nightmares is a 3D sidescroller. Of course, this comes with its own set of problems, but we’ll get to those in a sec.
The puzzles themselves are easy. relying on simple physics to get you through. And some of those puzzles might be moving a big object to reach a doorknob… yeah, not too exciting. This game is quite linear so you won’t have too much problem making progress. The tougher puzzles rely on diligent exploration and keeping out of a monster’s line-of-sight.
But because you’re moving across a 3D plane, it’s possible that you can fall off bridges because of the constantly changing cinematic camera and the fact that your character can be far away to see what she’s next to. It’s Depth Perception: The Game. Moving across narrow walkways in Little Nightmares is NOT fun!
While the monsters are disturbing to look at, getting away from them feels like a chore at times. Because Six runs so slow and you’re often in a situation where getting caught is highly likely, you’re going to be hitting your head against the wall quite a few times. That one damn table in Chapter 4 comes into mind. That one short segment was badly designed because it was not clear where the safe spots were and you seem to jump straight into the obstacles quite often.
There are also moments when if a monster even touches you even slightly, you’re finished. Even if it’s by a single polygon. This can get really annoying in areas where there is very little room to maneuver in.
Light, Comfort and Hunger
There are collectibles hidden in the Maw in the form of candles, statues, and Nomes (without the ‘G’). The candles are mainly used as checkpoints and you only need to find a certain number of them to unlock an achievement. Breaking the statues unlock more concept art in the game’s main menu. Nomes take a little more time to search for since they have a tendency to flee from you. I know that finding the Nomes and hugging them give a slightly different ending to your playthrough, and that finding them all will grant you an achievement. Other than that, there is no other reward for them. I guess you could say it fulfills your Videogame Caring Potential quota.
Much like with these minimalist platformers, the story is entirely up to interpretation: what kind of person the main character is, who the villain is, and what’s even going on in general.
In Chapter 1, you learn that there are timid creatures called Nomes wandering across the ship. In the depths of the Maw, there are man-eating leeches ready to ambush any unlucky visitor there. There are also security cameras (eyeballs) that turn anyone they spot into stone. You’ll find statues of small kids around them…
In Chapter 2, you’ll encounter the long-armed Janitor, whose job appears to be keeping children trapped in the prison area. He never kills the escaped children he captures (at least, not on-screen), but it is possible he is working for the Lady.
In Chapter 3, you’ll encounter the Twin Chefs, who were preparing enormous amounts of meat in the Maw. At the time, it was unknown why they were preparing this much food and where the meat even came from, though you might guess what were these objects wrapped in cloth and transported in large quantities.
In Chapter 4, you’ll learn that the Maw is a big metallic ship where large humanoid creatures (called Guests) board to eat an enormous feast of meat. The Guests are morbidly obese to the extremes, mindless and absolutely greedy for food. All that meat prepared by the Twin Chefs was to feed these hideous creatures. However, the Guests seem to have a preference for live prey, as they prioritize devouring Six over the food sitting before them.
In Chapter 5, you’ll confront the Lady, who was by far the most normal-looking humanoid in the Maw. She is about as tall as the Guests and has a distinct Japanese appearance. She wears a kimono, her hair is wrapped in a bun and she hides her face behind a white mask. She also possesses psychic and specter abilities and has a tendency to stare at broken mirrors.
It’s heavily implied that the Lady was the mastermind controlling the Maw, where she kept kidnapped children in the depths of the ship and lured the Guests into the ship to feed them. But for what purpose?
Well, Six defeats the Lady using the only intact mirror she can find. The mirror weakens the Lady, eventually causing her to collapse. Six cannibalizes the Lady and steals her powers. As Six approaches the entrance of the Maw, she murdered the Guests along the way by absorbing their life force.
A recurring theme of Little Nightmares is hunger. In every chapter, Six enters a period of intense hunger, causing her to limp. So she’ll eat any piece of meat she comes across, no matter how disgusting it is. At first, she eats ordinary bread and the unknown chunks of meat found throughout the Maw. Next, she eats a live rat, possibly out of desperation.
In Chapter 4, Six encounters the Nomes, who are now friendly with her. One of them offers her a sausage. Instead of taking the sausage though, Six devours the Nome instead, scaring the rest of them off. Despite the warmth and kindness she showed them earlier, Six seemed to have tossed that aside and submitted to her animalistic urges.
The final moment of hunger is after Six defeated the Lady. Six consumed the Lady’s flesh, absorbing the unnatural powers. At this point, Six was a different person. She’s a whole different kind of monster. This was later shown when she mercilessly slaughters all of the Guests along the way out of the Maw.
The most common theory with the Lady is that she’s feeding the Guests to fatten them up. And eventually, she’ll steal their lifeforce, killing them to maintain her own youth and beauty—like cattle to a slaughter. And the corpses were used as meat by the Twin Chefs, constantly recycling the flesh over and over.
Another common theory is that Six is the daughter of the Lady; the Lady grew jealous of Six’s beauty, which was why she cast the child away to the depths of the Maw.
My theory is that the Guests were all once human, until the Lady tempted them to cannibalize their own kind. The Lady stripped them of their humanity, turning them into gluttonous, greedy monstrosities with insatiable appetites.
However, we also see that Six experienced a powerful appetite as well. In just a few seconds, her growling stomach would bring her into intense pain. So it’s possible that the children in the Maw were kept as prisoners to be just like the Guests eventually. The children still maintained their humanity, which was why the Janitor was there to keep them locked away. The only edible food found in the Maw was all that meat, so it’s also possible that the children were eating that same meat.
Eventually, those children will grow up to be adults and reproduce. If those two hanging corpses of tall, thin men from earlier meant anything, it would imply that there were normal human adults in the ship. Then they will be fed the enormous mountains of meat, turning them into the mindless Guests. And so, the cycle continues indefinitely. The Lady can bask in her own beauty for eternity while remaining isolated from the rest of the world, maintaining a healthy supply of “cattle” as long as she wills it.
Six’s moments of intense hunger implies that she will be just like these monsters one day, which was why she was slowly displaying more monstrous behavior as the game continues. She is a little nightmare, eventually discarding her innocence and becoming another predator. She’s a hazard waiting to happen. And this was what the Lady was afraid of. She was afraid that one day, one of these children will escape and overthrow her, ending her reign of terror.
Even though Six seemed to have won in the end, she was no longer human. She sacrificed her humanity to ensure her own survival, becoming another being just like the Lady. She was consumed by her own gluttony.
So now, Six is wandering the outside world. Will she leave the Maw and wander the world to seek out more victims? Or will she remain there, becoming the new leader of the Maw?
This theory might be a bit of a stretch. But considering the core theme of hunger in Little Nightmares, it’s hard to ignore that Six was potentially turning into the biggest threat against the Maw. At first glance, she may look like an innocent child. But she was destined to be yet another monster, only worse than the Guests and the Lady combined…
Secrets of the Maw DLC
Next up is a three-part DLC campaign known as Secrets of the Maw.
This campaign takes place during the same time as Six’s journey. But this time, you’re a little boy who was previously in the care of the Janitor. Finding a moment of opportunity, the boy escapes and accidentally drops into the depths of the Maw. This takes us to the first part of the campaign called the Depths. There, he encounters a horrifying creature haunting the flooded areas known as the Granny.
The gameplay mechanics haven’t changed and the level designs are pretty similar to the core game. The difference is that you have to cross water-filled areas now, with a monster that resembles the Kaernk from Amnesia: The Dark Descent.
After clearing the Depths, you enter the next part called the Hideaway.
This chapter is interesting in that it’s an actual co-op scenario. In order to escape the Maw, the little boy decided to work together with the Nomes to solve puzzles. You can carry a Nome and throw it onto a platform or onto a switch. Nomes can also help you push very heavy objects that require a few people to move. While this is a great idea on paper, the execution definitely needs work.
To begin with, the Nome AI isn’t very good. For no discernible reason, the Nomes will just stop following me even though I’m close by. And sometimes, they don’t react to me trying to solve puzzles that require their help.
Furthermore, I found a game-breaking glitch where if a Nome is too close to the edge of a platform, the Nome will be stuck there and will not attempt to follow you. The coal room comes into mind. I can’t even grab the Nome to “fix” this glitch. Often, I have no choice but to reset my progress at certain points in the chapter. And that’s very annoying.
There are no new enemies in the Hideaway, unfortunately. Just a few encounters with the Janitor, who behaves the same as before. I guess one thing that adds a depth of challenge is trying to avoid him in pitch blackness. But even then, he’s not too difficult to avoid.
The final DLC chapter is the Residence, where you explore the Lady’s domicile. This area has a more open-ended feel to it, where you can solve various puzzles in any order you wish. It was great for a while… then the game decided it needed combat mechanics…
Yeah… the original campaign had something of a “boss battle,” but it was dead simple and repetitive. Not really what I would call “combat mechanics.” But for some odd reason, Little Nightmares decided to turn into Alan Wake for the final half of the Residence.
There are these shadow enemies that you defeat by shining your flashlight on them for a prolonged period of time—they also constantly move away from you when you do so, meaning you’d have to constantly adjust your flashlight to defeat one of them. Doesn’t sound hard. But you would have to move away from the enemies and control the flashlight’s spotlight direction at the same time. Furthermore, these shadow enemies have a cheap charging attack that kills you in one hit. You know you’re going to have a frustrating time when a group of these bastards chases after you.
I certainly didn’t like this combat mechanic in Alan Wake and I didn’t like it here. It just feels out of place in a puzzle platformer that mostly involves hiding and fleeing from your enemies. And for what is basically the last portion of the game, it left a slightly pungent taste in my mouth.
There is only one type of collectible in Secrets of the Maw called Flotsam, which are these bottles you can open. They unlock more concept art in the game’s menu and contribute to achievements. That’s about it.
Overall, the Secrets of the Maw campaign is a mixed bag of gimmicks. But I can’t say I’m too disappointed in it. The campaign as a whole does serve a purpose to Six’s story in the main campaign and it leads to a pretty tragic conclusion. Overall, I still recommend it if you want to get more Little Nightmares content. Just expect some frustration along the way.
And that is Little Nightmares. It’s probably going to give you nightmares, because of the sheer amount of disturbing body horror. Surprisingly, it’s a horror title lacking gore, despite all that nasty imagery. Got to give it credit for that. It’s commendable.
While the puzzles are more simplistic than I was hoping for and the controls can be iffy at times, I enjoyed this hellish little trip. It’ll make you feel queasy, but you can also appreciate the macabre atmosphere and the silent storytelling. It’s definitely a game with the potential of developing into a full series of disturbing platformers. Considering the amount of positive reception this game already got since its debut, we’ll see if the future promises us more meat-filled horror.
- Oppressive dystopian atmosphere.
- Appropriately grotesque imagery combined with the uncomfortably realistic art style.
- Some appealing puzzles that require quick timing and diligent exploration to complete.
- Minimalist storytelling that may tell a truly gruesome tale that ends on a bitter (but thought-provoking) note.
- The camera may work against you since you're moving on a 3D plane with no invisible boundaries to prevent you from falling off bridges and platforms.
- Slow running animation and monsters being highly likely to catch you without much effort.
- The second chapter of the DLC campaign is glitchy, sometimes forcing you to restart progress.
- Mediocre "combat" mechanics introduced near the end of the DLC campaign.