Behind every fairy tale and story filled with whimsy and magic, there is a pervading sense of dread and horror. Underneath the tales of the Brothers Grimm or the childhood classics we’ve all grown up with, the upcoming 3D platformer Little Nightmares is certainly shaping up to be just as charming, and just as dreadful, as any of those childhood fairytales and the deeper secrets lurking behind them.
During this past weekend’s PAX East 2017, we had the chance to play a demo of Little Nightmares, which is currently in development by Tarsier Studios and coming to PS4, Xbox One, and PC in late April. Aside from its gameplay, which relies heavily on stealth and 3D platforming, Little Nightmares‘ most striking qualities are its visuals and art direction – if you took Tim Burton’s visual flair and mixed it with an eery dash of stop-motion animation (like that of Laika Entertainment’s films such as Coraline or ParaNorman), you’d have a fairly good idea of the wonderfully weird and creepy Little Nightmares and what to expect from the game.
Little Nightmares follows the journey of a young girl named Six, who is kidnapped and taken as a captive inside the bizarre world known only as “The Maw.” Once inside The Maw and adorned with only a raincoat, the player has to guide Six through the surreal underwater resort and avoid its deranged and hostile employees – along with numerous other threats inside – and find a way to escape from their grasp and being consumed by the crazed individuals, or the darkness around every corner.
The gameplay consists mostly of guiding Six through various environments, with the emphasis being on light puzzle-solving, platforming, and a healthy dose of stealth and sneaking around. In the level we played, which saw Six up against a grotesque cook in The Maw’s kitchen, figuring out the best route to take meant having to sneak under tables, climb on top of shelves, and avoid precariously-placed bottles of wine and oil to prevent drawing the attention of the cook, and becoming part of their next meal.
Puzzle-solving from the demo we played was fairly basic, but with the delightfully dark and twisted world that Little Nightmares presents, the puzzles take on some unique twists that force thinking a little more creatively. In one example, an inaccessible vent that could be crawled through toward the next area required swinging to reach it. In order to swing to the vent, I had to utilize a nearby sausage-maker to grind up giant hocks of ham, making for one gross (but effective) way to reach the vent and progress to the next area.
Almost like the grim world of LIMBO realized in 3D, what we played of Little Nightmares so far showed that the game’s platforming and puzzle-solving is augmented in some effective and (often) terrifying ways thanks to its darkly-realized world and characters. In the kitchen demo, finding how to progress and get to the next area was made all the more tense by the lingering cook. Sneaking underneath cabinets and climbing on tables was all the more dangerous with the cook constantly shuffling between shelves and tabletops, and with the cook slicing up a big fish to try, I genuinely felt tense and wary of what lied ahead for me.
While it’s by no means a horror game in the vein of Outlast or Amnesia, Little Nightmares‘ dark, twisted gameplay and world still evoked a lot of the ways that make horror games so fun (and scary) to play. Given that Six has no ways to defend herself (at least that we saw in the demo) and her small stature against The Maw’s hulking monsters (and monstrous employees), Little Nightmares offers puzzles and platforming with a dash of stealth and horror that makes traversing its world fun, but also terrifying.
That fear and unease around the game’s monsters and environments is also aided by its striking and creepy visuals. From the grotesque meats and dark, creaky cabinets that filled the kitchen area in our demo, the tension of trying to avoid the game’s creepy creatures and not have Six become their next snack was incredibly palpable. While the demo we played was more brightly-lit, Six comes equipped with a lighter that surely will come into play when it comes to illuminating the dark halls and vents she has to crawl through, or to provide (some) illumination against the eery unknown of The Maw.
While a far cry from the colorful nature of other platformers like Yooka-Laylee or Super Mario Odyssey coming later this year, Little Nightmares utilizes platforming, stealth, and puzzle-solving in a way that’s tied up by its uniquely creepy and charming visuals. Much like children’s fairy tales that exude joy and charm while hiding something deeper, Little Nightmares certainly carries with it the same sense of dread and macabre that’s sure to make players uneasy. However, the world that Tarsier Studios has crafted in Little Nightmares is surely going to continue drawing me in, even if I know what’s waiting for me might be lurking in the darkness.
Little Nightmares will release for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on April 28th, 2017.