Written by Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller // Edited by Drew Beyer // Header image courtesy of Little-Nightmares.com
Let it be known that I’m writing this review an hour after I finished playing through Little Nightmares. As with every game I complete, I took time to look up some analyses of the ending, but wasn’t too surprised when I found that most of the analyses say various versions of the same thing considering the game was released just days ago. Analyses and personal feelings about the ending aside (for now), I must give my honest opinion of a game that I was really excited to play.
In short: Meh.
I’ll start with the technical side of things. The graphics were pretty on point most of the time, and I cannot lie, the artistry is gruesomely beautiful. I would never knock the game for its visuals, that’s for sure, but I will knock it a bit for it’s controls. Figuring out a new game isn’t always an easy task, and some games are much easier to figure out than others, but I believe one reason why it was difficult for me to learn the controls is because they didn’t fully utilize the controller (keep in mind that I played this on an Xbox One). The ‘A’ and ‘X’ buttons were the only two face buttons used, and the left and right trigger were used but you had to keep holding them down to continue the associated actions and sometimes the triggers wouldn’t work if you pressed them. My controller was fully charged and wasn’t experiencing issues in other games, so I don’t blame it on my hardware. Sometimes you didn’t need to press them at all but that was in direct contrast to other situations where you had to and… ugh. I found that most of the my frustration while playing the game was a result of inconsistent controls rather than me struggling with a difficult puzzle. You can give me a difficult puzzle any day of the week, but when you give me fairly simple puzzles with difficult navigational tools then we have a problem.
I also experienced glitches related to my little character (whose name is Six? I only learned that after looking it up online.) and with her little adversaries. The lighting would shift in and out on characters, I would get stuck after making weird jumps, and I would sometimes get caught but not understand how because the game would just jump from me being way away from danger to all of a sudden being in the perfect place to be gobbled up. Also, the game took an incredibly long time to load whenever it needed to switch areas or reload my progress and it would freeze from time to time. Maybe that’s somehow my fault, but it was decently annoying nonetheless.
Now moving on to the gameplay and story. I love puzzles, and I especially love games like this where the action is presented in puzzle form rather than combat so when I watched gameplay of people going through the demos, I was hooked – I was convinced this was going to become my next favorite. When the game was released and I started playing it, I got even more excited because I was immediately transported back to playing Inside all over again. Some things that I really appreciate about both games are that the storytelling was mostly done through the environment and the overall tension of the thing is the drive to not get caught. Just like in Inside, I found myself asking about halfway through the game questions like, “who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What will happen once I’m there?” And I dig that! I totally dig that, but I didn’t really dig it overall like I did with Inside. Although Inside left most if not all questions unanswered, I still felt satisfied at the end of that game and I didn’t feel satisfied at the end of Little Nightmares. Inside clearly had a message and a story to tell, albeit a vague story that the player is supposed to interpret for themselves. Little Nightmares just seemed to be a lot of hype for no payout – there was no message, there was no point, and I just didn’t care at the end.
The game is about a 4-5 hour endeavor, not too long but almost too short, and there are five “areas” (that’s not what they’re called I don’t think, but they’re basically levels) that players are supposed to go through and conquer before moving to the next. Although I have nothing against this type of game set-up, I would ask the developers to do two things: a) make more areas and b) make the areas increase in difficulty as the player progresses through them. I would have loved to see more of The Maw (the name of the ship) and I think there were a lot of squandered opportunities to explore those places. The concept for this game is absolute gold – a dystopian ship piloted by a psychotic geisha, staffed by monstrous half-humans, and inhabited by the gluttonous bourgeoisie who feasts on their own children that’s being navigated by a malnourished child trying to escape? Hell yeah! But I feel like Little Nightmares really stuck to the tip of the iceberg on this one – there was so much potential and so little pay off that when the game ended I literally said, “…that’s it?”
As for the difficulty, I felt like the game stayed consistent throughout and possibly even got easier towards the end. I could maybe understand that tactic if you want your player to focus on the story at that point instead of the gameplay, but the speed at which I breezed through the game was a little off putting. Listen, I’m *n e v e r* someone who says “gee, I wish that game was harder” but y’all… I wish this game was harder! I’m not a skilled gamer in the least, but I wanted more complexity. There was one moment in particular, when I was in The Lady’s Quarters and I was desperately trying to figure out how to get passed her, that I spent so much time trying to figure it out as if it were the grand puzzle that I was expecting at the end of the game that when I figured it out and discovered how simple the answer was, I let out the deepest sigh I’ve let out in a while. You’ve gotta choose one, either give us a challenge or tell us a story. Choosing neither is just… meh.
A quick aside: the description of the game on Steam says something about facing your “childhood fears”? What fears? Being hungry? I guess that one weird, irrational fear kids have that they’re going to be eaten but I could never tell if that was an actual fear I had as a child or just a fear that fairytales told me to have. In any case, that description threw me for a big ol’ loop because that’s not at all what I’d consider my experience. It’s also not aimed at children? Rated T for teen? As in not for kids under the age of 12? Anyway, I’m getting off topic.
The one thing this game did very well was scare me. There were several times that I was sufficiently kept on my toes and many a moment when I screamed because I was frightened. I wouldn’t say that I felt like a kid again in my fright, though. I felt very much like an adult person who was surprised and afraid during a game that was made to surprise and scare me. I wasn’t too scared, however, which I give the game great kudos for. A lot of the reason why I don’t like horror games is because I find myself being too scared to focus on anything other than my fear, and this game kept me uneasy but also allowed me to breathe to the point where I could focus on both. I just wish there was more substance story-wise.
Overall, it’s not a bad game. I recommend it, but I wouldn’t sing it’s praises while doing so. I just think that it had an ocean’s worth of potential and it only gave me a rowboat’s worth of payout. I would love to see more of this game, if the developers wanted to continue the adventure. Until then, I’ll just be here feeling very “meh” about the whole thing.