After the balmy hours of My Time At Portia, I stumbled across this brief palette cleanser of a game on PS Now. Little Nightmares is simple but difficult, scarily atmospheric and really bloody frustrating in places.
You play as an unbearably slight little figure, barefoot and shrouded in a too-large yellow hooded garment. From the first moments of your minuscule avatar waking in an unfamiliar setting, the game quickly establishes a sense of foreboding and dread as you guide this childlike creature around an inhospitable environment. The music and soundscape expertly builds tension, although in places was distractingly similar to the incidental music from the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer game on XBox. Coupled with the haptic feedback and the pulsing heartbeat whenever peril is near, the game gets full marks for engendering a sense of mild terror.
The game is set at a single-difficulty level which was at time beyond my skill. On the plus side it did mean re-living the olden days when I had to ask Terry to do the too-hard jumping puzzles. This kind of game necessarily walks a tightrope between boring (too easy) and frustrating (too challenging) so whether or not the game gets the balance right will always be a matter of personal preference. I certainly wouldn’t want it to be any longer than it was, given the limited range of actions (crouch, grab, sprint, jump), and the repetition of the stages.
As the name suggests, the game is a meditation on primal fears: the dark, hunger, being pursued. There is something specifically nerve wracking about a game where your only survival skill is evasion rather than combat. At various points you can interact with the environment as a means of distraction. What you can’t do it chuck a bottle at an enemy and then glass the fucker, more’s the pity.
The graphics are gorgeous in a grotesque kind of way. But I was a bit disappointed that the game leans so heavily into the problematic horror trope of depicting evil by means of disability & disfigurement. Perhaps I’m missing some kind of social commentary equating the ills of greed and capitalism with the obese, grasping diners. But to me it felt like a lazy artistic choice. Similarly the climactic end whereby our (by now no doubt traumatised) protagonist decides the best way to handle fear is to become something even scarier seems a bit old-hat.
I’ve played worse, but probably won’t be bothering with the sequel. 6/10.