Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Little Nightmares Review

 The third and final game in my #HorrorGameOct lineup is one that I played through with my wife rather than on Twitch. Little Nightmares is a horror puzzle platformer that was originally released on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 in April 2017. The 2018 Switch version that my wife and I played featured the main campaign, "Six's Story", as well as the DLC campaign, "The Kid's Story".

Each of the two campaigns follows a different child's path through The Maw, a giant cruise ship full of grotesque semi-human cannibalistic creatures, as the kids attempt to escape before they wind up as entrees in the buffet. This unique premise and the twisted and unsettling imagery that come with it are the game's biggest strength. The creatures pursuing the young heroes are creatively designed and also deeply disturbing to look at. The Maw features dark industrial areas in the underbelly of the ship as well the passenger accommodations with banquet halls and giant furnishings. It all comes together in an appropriately nightmarish visual package that feels like a fusion of the darkest parts of Nightmare Before Christmas and Spirited Away.

While the premise and sense of style are very distinct, the story that Little Nightmares tells is minimalist. Outside of the game's conclusion, there are no cut scenes, dialog, or text within the game. I was initially disappointed by this since the game's trailer make it look like a narrative-driven game, but after a while I adjusted to the subtle and purely visual form of story telling the game was using. What's there is mysterious but very bare bones.

The gameplay of Little Nightmares is very simple. There's no combat; all enemy encounters are resolved by either speed or stealth. In the quiet moments, there are basic environmental puzzles to solve and light platforming. Most of this works out reasonably well, but there were a couple of persistent sources of frustration throughout. Despite the character's limited capabilities, the controls were cumbersome. The main issue was that the right trigger needs to be held any time the character is carrying an object, climbing ladders, or pulling themself up a ledge. After an hour or so of play, my right index finger would get sore since I had to be holding down the trigger most of the time. The other issue is that the camera has very limited movement, which meant that I had several occasions where I would miss a jump and fall to my death due to bad camera angles throwing off my depth perception.

Control and camera hangups aside, we encountered a couple of technical issues while playing Little Nightmares on Nintendo Switch. The most glaring of which is likely a Switch-specific problem: painfully long load times. The stealth and platforming sections of the game often involved some trial and error, with mistakes leading to instant death. These deaths were punished by having to wait up to a full minute for the game to reload the last checkpoint. This was very discouraging during the tougher parts of the campaign. The other technical issue was more general; glitches in the game's physics and collision would sometimes cause the player character or enemies to get snagged on corners or doorways. On a few occasions this would happen at an inopportune moment, and then we were staring at a loading screen once again.

For my wife and I, we had enough fun and spooky moments with Little Nightmares that we willing to tolerate the technical and design issues that occasionally got in the way. Little Nightmares is unique enough from an artistic standpoint to be worthwhile for fans of the weird and creepy but is probably not mechanically sound enough to please those who come to it purely for platforming or stealth gameplay.

Score: ⭐⭐⭐

Completion Time: About 8 hours (both campaigns combined)

Note: This review is specific to the Nintendo Switch version of the game. It’s possible that the PC game addresses some of the issues I had with this game by having faster load times and reconfigurable controls.

If you're curious about the #HorrorGameOct event, be sure to check out this blog post on Chic Pixel.

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