Indie and horror seem to be a match made in heaven. From Limbo, Inside, and Slender (take your pick of which one, there’s plenty), to my newest favorite Little Nightmares, this melding of genres rarely disappoints. This review will be slightly different to my normal approach; Little Nightmares is a game that is best experienced with little information going in. This is because most of, much of the game’s value is comprised of “Oh dear god, what in the hell is that?!” moments. This being said, I will instead state what I believe this game did well conceptually while keeping the game’s content left alone.
Little Nightmares is a short indie game produced by Tarsier Studios. It is technically categorized as an adventure game, but much like how Deliverance is technically a tale of passionate lovemaking, this is hardly the whole story.
While Little Nightmares is technically an adventure game, it also falls neatly into the horror, puzzle solver, and surrealist genres as well. But this game doesn’t approach horror in the traditional manner; I would liken it to Eraserhead by David Lynch. This is because it uses atmosphere and style to create a constant sense of creeping unease; this is then combined with some truly unnerving visuals later on. There are some jumpscares to be had, but unlike most horror games which use them ad nauseam, Little Nightmares sprinkles them in sparingly.
The game approaches its story in an indirect manner; much like Limbo and Inside. You are told very little and are left to infer most of the plot from the environments and encounters. In that regard, the designers placed most of their focus into the game’s aesthetic style; and it shows in every scene. This game is very much a feast for the senses, in the most horrible manner possible.
Few games get sound design as right as Little Nightmares. The soundtrack was composed by Tobias Lilja, which is haunting and eerie yet serenely beautiful. This amazing score is combined with the constant and effective use of sound cues to accent the truly horrific events which unfold.
The visual style, as I said earlier, pulls heavily from surrealism. The game presents its environment in a twisted and distorted manner; as you walk about the settings, you are unsure if what you are experiencing is real or a dream. This concept goes even further when you encounter the antagonists; vaguely human forms, malformed and altered, barely resembling anything recognizable.
But, this game isn’t perfect. The gameplay while enjoyable is flawed in certain areas; specifically, with its conveyance. Conveyance, simply put, is how game designers impart the player’s abilities and objectives non-verbally. In other words, the game does not explain certain puzzles and objectives very well; especially when it comes to how the protagonist interacts with the world. For example; you can seemingly move and shuffle large objects like chairs and stacks of books, but have trouble moving much smaller objects like frying pans or wooden spoons. As well, certain objects behave differently in certain puzzles; this leads the player confused as to what he/she can interact with, and how said object is supposed to be used.
Slight gameplay issues aside, this game is good. The price, currently standing at $19.99 on Steam, is fair. The game while slightly short is enjoyable, yet highly unsettling experience. If you’re a fan of horror, art, surrealism, puzzle games, or oddly enough, David Lynch, you must pick up Little Nightmares.