Spooktober 2018 Entry #11 – Previous Entry: Crypt of The Necrodancer – The Greatest OST Ever Made // Next Entry: Halloween Hack
For the 1890th time, LIMBO was a good game.
Its impact on the gaming industry is overstated and overplayed. Time after time, we’ve seen half-baked yet ultimately striking LIMBO & Inside clones come up and try to take a piece of the pie, with me documenting as much of them as I can. Black The Fall, Albert & Otto, Asemblance, and now we have one that escaped my wretched claws when it first arrived: Little Nightmares.
This is what I believe to be the first product created by Swedish developers Tarsier Studios all on their lonesome selves. Before this, they had their hand in making DLC for all three LittleBigPlanet games, and after that, they helped with the underrated title Tearaway Unfolded. Now the plans are still little but seek to scare you instead.
You follow the stories of Six and The Runaway Kid, with both stories playing parallel to one another, but with the Kid’s only being accessible via the three DLC packs. Six wakes up in a desolate ship, and now it’s up to them to try and traverse the horrors populating the area. The Kid wakes up in a desolate ship, and now it’s up to them to serve as plot convenience for Six.
Now before we even jump into everything here, let’s just put get out of the way first: Little Nightmares is worth your time, undoubtedly so. It’s a brilliant piece of horror that needs to be played, as its Burton-esque visuals and set pieces are brilliantly executed. However, on a gameplay level, this game is fairly awful, and its narrative needs to be discussed in some format. Let’s start with that.
There’s a lot of symbolism and events in the game that up for interpretation, with a lot of it not necessarily adding up. Greed, isolation, smothering, beauty, it’s all visible in the story, with there being possible commentary throughout all of it. Chapter Four is easily the most story-heavy section of the game, with there being hordes of fat-cat men and women feasting at a banquet until their legs don’t work, and it’s strong stuff.
However, there’s two ways you can interpret this. One way would be that this is a comment on the higher-ups of the world; The elites who proudly sit upon ivory towers and hoard everything for the day that it all crumbles, so that when the fallout subsides, and the human beings who didn’t prepare are left to suffer and perish, they can rebuild a world of utopian perfection. Free of thought, full of hedonism.
There’s been heavy discussion of that in the real world as well. Executives and chairwo/men attempting to make sure that they can save themselves when the world ends in a spectacular fireball of ash and radiation. All it takes is for one person to set off the chain of events that causes the downfall, and you play said person. It’s fairly powerfully put together here, but the more realistic answer is that it’s all there to be scary, and that’s it.
You see, every time you perish to the monsters that lurk around you, it cuts to Six or The Kid waking up, which does tend to remove some ambiguity and urgency that the game demands. Why care for Six and The Kid if we know that they’re going to wake up from this eventually? I get that the clue is in the name of the game, but it’s hard to care about Six and The Kid when I know that the most possible answer is that they’re not in any danger.
This is the main problem with the story, as it feels like there are two writers, writing two completely different stories. On the one hand, you’ve got a writer looking to kneecap the establishment and hit us with something fierce, and worthwhile. On the other hand, we’ve got someone who wants to make a sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it’s jarring. It’s disheartening to see Goosebumps and Fight Club in the same scene, is all I’m saying.
There’s a lot that doesn’t connect to each other, either. One minute you’ll be chased by the Orson Welles Lookalike Club, and the next you’ll be facing off against Lucy Liu from Kill Bill, and the game will act like its deserved this sudden tonal shift. If you want to be a collage of terror and horror, that’s absolutely fine, but don’t add this over-arching message above it that you believe can be applied to everything, no matter the context.
The gameplay is Little Nightmares second biggest offense. It’s a 3-D platformer, as opposed to being strictly 2-D, and a lot of the platforming requires tightrope precision. When it’s not platforming like that, it’s the usual gravity-based puzzle design and block pushing that we’ve all come to know and tolerate. What this leads into is some of the most finicky sections in a walking simulator ever devised.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re walking across shoes, or a normal floor with one solitary carpet, Six and The Kid will constantly get stuck to imaginary objects and when trying to carry stuff around? Fuggehdabou’dit, items and boxes get stuck to the same non-existent places Six and The Kid do, and high-octane scenarios can be a frustrating trial-and-error mess, even when they shouldn’t be.
It can still be gratifying when you complete some of these puzzles, without a doubt, but half of the time, the stealth and the reliance on clunky mechanics that needed more work is annoying. The throwing mechanic is something that stiff baffles me, as sometimes Six and The Kid will have the throwing power of an OAP after a hip operation, but other times they can compete with some of the best javelin players around.
The Kid’s first DLC, “The Depths” is the worst for this. It mostly takes place in your watery grave, with a monster known as “The Granny” swimming underneath to grab you when you least expect it. You ass moves like a slug in molasses in the water, and trying to grab onto objects clear of The Granny during this is a tiresome mess of platforming and Tarzan moments.
That being said, the game’s horror is so unabashedly brilliant, some of the complaints don’t even matter. The moments of unfiltered fear and terror, the set pieces, the characters, the life and rather, lack of life? It’s great, it’s all great, even from the get-go, with none of it being spoiled here, just in case you still haven’t played it.
In each chapter, there is at least one shining moment that stands to be some of the best horrors that gaming has ever offered. The Janitor, the hunger pangs, the “offering”, it’s all executed without flair, but with impact. The scalpel acts like an ax, but if there’s a problem that I have with it, it’s the immediacy that Tarsier constantly command from the player.
A lot of the horror in the base game does revolve around chases, and these action sequences do subtract from the general experience, even if it’s infrequent. You have all of these moments without a sting, there are no jumpscares in sight, yet there’s a chance where it devolves and lacks the same grace prevalent beforehand. I’d say Chapter Four’s chase scene is deserved, but the rest? I dunno, it’s debatable.
As for the DLC? It’s okay, but it’s nothing that’s up to the standards of what the base game provides. The story of The Kid is told with as little force as Six’s, and because it runs parallel to Six’s story, you probably already know that it isn’t going to be as interesting as theirs. A lot of the gameplay retreads familiar ground, and there’s not a lot new added. I know what you’re already thinking, “why change something that doesn’t need changing?”, and I’m saying that there is still a potential goldmine to be found within the layers of Little Nightmares.
In the end, Little Nightmares is a brilliant piece of horror, but an annoying game to play. The controls are too finicky, there’s an enormous sense of deja vu, and not just in the narrative and structure of The Kid’s story, and its price is questionable. It is essential for Halloween however, and if you can bear with some flawed gameplay, you get some of the best horror committed to recent memory.
This review of Little Nightmares is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
Utterly terrifying and pants-wetting horror that must be experienced, even if the gameplay is a failure in most regards
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.