Little Nightmares (2017)
Updated: Nov 8, 2019
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Happy Spook Season! I consider "spook season" anytime around September when I decide to start consuming spooky content, until well after Halloween. As I've mentioned before, despite my love for horror films, stories, and shows, I am really bad at playing horror games. I've been eyeing Little Nightmares for such a long time and constantly torn between my curiosity for its unique style and my fear of its seemingly grotesque villains seen in the trailer. My partner convinced me to get by agreeing to play it with me, and so I had someone by my side when I needed to yell or throw my controller. Little Nightmares is a stealth adventure horror game where you play as a tiny child trying to escape The Maw - a place full of cannibalistic, monstrous beings.
Little Nightmares is one of those indie games that's made it big - it's a beloved horror hit, with additional DLC content and a highly anticipated sequel on the way. It drew me in with its adorable protagonist and their proportions compared to the environment. Being tiny enough to climb have to climb up a drawer or use both arms to pick up a can make the world a very interesting playground. The gameplay is three-dimensional, but your perspective of each room in two-dimensional, as if you were observing rooms in a dollhouse or a storybook. Little Nightmares has a very realistic art style, and yet at the same time it's abstract and fantastical. Items look real, but the inhabitants of the world, including yourself, look bizarre and unsettling, almost like a dream.
The world around you is very malleable and interactive, you're able to basically move, pick up, or climb any object. That's probably one of my favorite things about Little Nightmares. Push a chair to where you need it, tear a wood plank off the wall, climb up refrigerator shelves. Scared? Just pick up a toilet paper roll and throw it around the room. That'll distract you from the impending doom, at least for a little bit. Then there's these skittish little characters called Nomes, or as I called them, "Little Friends", since they run away at first but when you find them you can pick them up and hug them. This is very comforting in a place where every other living thing is out to eat you.
Little Nightmares is a completely silent journey, not a word is spoken the entire time nor are you given an explanation of who or where you are. At times, there's so little guidance that you don't learn how you're supposed to run or interact with certain items. It's clear, however, that you are not safe here and you need to use whatever you have to escape and stealth by. Whoever these monster-like humans are, they will scoop you up and eat you the second they find you. Fortunately for me, there's not a whole lot of gore - even if they catch you, the cutscene only shows them grabbing you before the game resets you to your checkpoint, or maybe them throwing you in their mouths at most. Nonetheless, every time I was caught I still squealed and turned away from the screen. It's chilling especially in that you are a small, barefoot child, completely unprotected and hunted out. You start to gather more information about The Maw as you travel further.
Little Nightmares absolutely shocks and surprises, but not in a way that feels jump-scare-like. Instead, it twists your belief in things you thought you had come to understand in the Maw. You begin to trust in few things in this world that seem constant, and then those turn on you. The feelings you have towards the game will change rapidly, especially near the end; I would call this one of the most intriguing endings I've played through in a short game. There's plenty of unanswered questions, even at the end, about who these beings are and why this world has turned so morbid, uncaring, and greedy. Apparently one of the inspirations for this game was the hit animated film Spirited Away, and it's quickly clear how that influenced the environment and mood.
Little Nightmares is a beautiful game, and yet, it's so chilling that you'll have a hard time putting it out of your mind once you've finished. It feels shorter than it actually is, because it pulls you in for every moment. I don't have a whole lot of experience with horror games, but I feel that this is what a quality horror experience should be like. If you can't deal with the grotesque and the shocking surprises, you might want to pass on this. However, it's an excellent horror title that even I was able to get through, so I feel like it's doable for almost anyone. I'm planning on picking up the DLC soon as well, as the lore and mysteries of the Maw have me both wanting to learn more and to explore more of this twisted world.
Little Nightmares is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One.
Played on: PC
Playtime: 4 hrs
DLC Update (11/8/2019)
Okay, so I finally picked up Secrets of the Maw Expansion pass and played it with my partner. After finishing the additional content, which added about 2-3 hours, I decided I had to write a bit about whether I thought the DLC was worthwhile. Short answer: YES.
The Secrets of the Maw expansion pack includes three new areas that you explore as the "Runaway Kid", an unknown child separate from Six. Your journey as the Runaway Kid seems to run parallel to Six, actually seeing her from afar at multiple points. It doesn't change Six's story, but it layers on top of it and adds more depth.
The gameplay is essentially the same, except there's more puzzle-solving and less stealth, which I was grateful for. There's not as many hungry big boys to run from, although there's still monstrous humans who come after you (one was especially scary and we decided to call him Sewer Grandpa). There's new challenges that Six didn't face, like navigating through water and some new fearsome type of enemies. My favorite part, and why I think this DLC was perfectly catered to me was that there's WAY MORE little friends (nomes). There's more of them in quantity and there's also more time spent with them, working together to solve puzzles.
I highly recommend the Secrets of the Maw Expansion pass if you enjoyed Little Nightmares. It's different enough to be still be exciting and scary, and the ending still gives you a surprise. It's almost as long as the main game and there's additional gameplay style, and again, more nomes.
Purchase Secrets of the Maw Expansion pass individually or purchase Little Nightmares: Complete Edition.