Most of us have at least one bad memory associated with growing up. Being a child or even a teenager is never an easy phase and each generation has to deal with new challenges. Yet, these might seem trivial when compared to what the young Six has to deal with in Little Nightmares.
Life isn’t easy from the very start for the little Six as she starts her adventure in the depths of the Maw. The Maw being a terrible place where characters like Six are made to feel as insignificant as possible. Little Nightmares prides itself in restricting the amount of hand holding to a minimum from the very start. Instead, players are almost forced to rely on their instincts to control and guide Six. This makes it extremely easy to get the hang of the controls by experimenting. Whilst it takes some time to get used to holding down a trigger to even just grab on to a ledge, it soon becomes clear that it’s all part of making the player feel what it’s like to be Six.
The very start of Little Nightmares will make players feel claustrophobic and most likely lonely and these are feelings that will stick with them for most of the story. Six’s journey is not one of hope or heroic deeds worthy of being passed down through generations. Hers is a tragic journey of discovering the very worst basic traits found in humans or at the very least a sentient living being.
The other characters or more like creatures that inhabit the Maw are ruthless to say the least. Their aggressive behaviour and giant like sizes make Six look even smaller and more vulnerable. If anything, the game is already tense long before meeting any of these oversized malicious beings. Due to her size, the interactions that Six has with most of the other living beings she comes across mostly consist of hiding and hoping that they don’t find her. This makes for some extremely creepy encounters where it truly feels like Six is playing a deadly game of hide and seek.
If anything, Little Nightmare lives up to its name. Six is but a toy constantly being played with as she continues what initially seems like a futile escape attempt. Being spotted by one of the creatures usually results in Six being unceremoniously grabbed and most likely being devoured. Even an enemy slightly brushing against her will result in the death animation kicking in. This unfortunately makes it easy to spot some disparity in the length between some of the checkpoints, which in turn means having to repeat some annoying sequences where it’s far too easy to get Six killed.
Little Nightmares is split up into levels and each of them provides players with a new way to feel concerned for the safety of Six. In fact, that tense feeling of hopelessness never seems to lift until the very end. Six is completely vulnerable and is often at the whim of the cannibalistic deformed beings that haunt the narrow corridors and rooms of the Maw. The game is usually creative, if nothing else, as clearly demonstrated by rooms such as one full of dolls that Six must cross whilst trying to avoid being grabbed by an unseen shark like enemy lurking in this sea of creepy dolls.
Whilst evading the creatures, Six will often come across puzzles that make use of the objects within the room or corridor that she is currently in. These often require quick thinking given that some of the puzzles are solved whilst Six is escaping one or more of her captors. The title does a decent job of combining some these puzzles with platform sections. Whilst it’s enjoyable to solve puzzles when not under pressure, it’s more exhilarating to do so with urgency or even if they are being solved whilst sneaking around a room being occupied by one of the creatures. Funnily enough, it’s often the simpler ideas that work best when solving the puzzles.
Albeit the story is lacking concrete information beyond what Six observes whilst continuing her escape plan, one detail keeps making itself known. That is that everyone is governed by their primal hunger from the twisted creatures to Six herself who is forced to perform repulsive acts to avoid starving to death. This extreme obsession with feeding is grotesque and isn’t too different from watching the undead feast on the corpses of the living on popular media such as The Walking Dead. In fact, these obese humanoid creatures’ obsession with eating is a constant theme. At one point Six even has to explore a banquet where many of them are stuffing their faces with various dishes. It definitely seems like the purpose of the Maw is to fuel their hunger and this makes Six nothing more than a tasty appetiser.
It’s necessary for the game to load between some areas within levels and when moving on to other levels. However, the time that it takes to load into an area, level or even just continuing after dying feels somewhat erratic. Most of the times it only took a couple of seconds, but there were moments where it took much longer to be able to continue playing. This becomes more of a problem when having to constantly wait for the game to load when dying several times whilst trying to get through one of the tougher sections. Sometimes the camera view also makes it difficult to move around and this is more of an issue when walking across narrow paths like pipes.
Whilst early levels like a prison and a kitchen last long enough to give players a decent tour of the Maw, the same can’t be said of later levels. If anything, it seems like it all ends too abruptly without any proper explanation of what is going on. The delightful puzzles that populated large sections of early levels are mostly replaced by sections where Six is running for her live and needs to constantly avoid being grabbed by the cannibalistic patrons.
Even the creepy theme seems to be more effective early on as it makes good use of the less glamorous and darker parts of the Maw. This is made even better by the sinister soundtrack which is constantly reminding players of the imminent danger Six is in whenever the other creatures are nearby.
A strong if somewhat frustrating start manages to make a good impression, but it all starts to unravel near the finish line. If anything, the constant reminder that these characters are all committing the sin of gluttony and feeding their perverse needs is one that players won’t forget anytime soon. Little Nightmares is definitely a unique experience, but it’s also one that will most likely leave players feeling peckish, like the hungry fools who can’t seem to control their appetite.