A creepy journey in the shoes of a child
The Swedish Tarsier Studios released the Little Nightmares’ first chapter on April 28, 2017. Published by Bandai Namco, was available for PC (Microsoft Windows) / PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / Nintendo Switch / Google Stadia.
Small disclaimer: I decided to combine all of the title’s chapters into a single review because I believe they are all interconnected and composed in nearly identical styles.
We talk about a game that you’ll never forget, for its unease, disquietude, weirdness and unique atmosphere. Its soft and hazy drawing has the power to make you shiver and tighten your stomach viscerally.
Anyway, if you like horror, you either already know this title or you can’t miss it.
THE LESS YOU KNOW, THE MORE IT SCARES YOU
What could ever happen to a slender little girl dressed simply in a yellow raincoat who wakes up inside a suitcase in a narrow, dark, and humid place?
Nothing good, probably.
We suddenly immerse ourselves in this very dark and scary atmosphere, in which our main little character, Six, tries to escape from what seems to be a very big prison in the middle of the sea.
So, well, we are on a terrifying ship, and if Six seems to have no fears, well, you’ll have them.
This ship functions similarly to a metal-plated ocean liner but it has a vertical course like a skyscraper. Because of this design, it floats like an iceberg, with only its funnel breaking the ocean surface and the rest of it submerged. It has a name: The Maw.
We have no idea what is going on, and we have no idea why this child is in this horrible situation, but we must proceed in order to understand.
As we go into the Maw, we see a couple of rather disturbing situations. The first is a strange uneasiness in the child, as if she had a severe stomach ache. We can clearly hear her heartbeat quicken. Seems to be very hungry.
The second (but there would be others if we wanted to go deeper) is the presence of a disproportionate number of shoes inside a room, on which Six must practically float.
Basically, Six will have to make her way through many vicissitudes, immersed in grotesque and unsettling details, until things finally begin to make sense.
One of the things that impressed me the most was the disturbing jingle of a television, which will be very useful for Six to save herself from a very bad situation. However, we will see it later.
A FREAK CIRCUS OF FERAL ENEMIES
We can’t help but think of all the strange individuals that our Six must flee from or directly confront.
After realizing that we are on a ship, Six enters an area that appears to be someone’s modest home. Someone very tall or … with disproportionately long arms.
Well, let’s meet our first villain: The Janitor.
This diligent and solitary attendant has no eyes and legs but a very fine hearing and sense of smell, a mouth filled with sharp teeth and long arms, so it doesn’t take much for him to grab you and kill you.
You can’t make any noise, so you’ll have to move silently, even under his nose if necessary.
There is no need to emphasize how terrifying all of it is.
As soon as we overcome this first big hurdle and enter the Maws’ less solitary and seedy areas (so to speak), we will face another tough test.
In the kitchen zone there is a violent and meat lover king. He’s fat, dirty, fierce but apparently not too bright, and he can’t bear vermin, so be careful he doesn’t catch you.
But that’s not all; we’re about to discover the other half of this nature’s anomaly: a brother. A twin, to be precise, who sleeps in one of two single beds attached to each other.
With immense regret, we have to face The Twin Chefs, who will give you a hard time while they’re cooking enough food for an army or washing piles and piles of dishes.
So, who is this food’s mountain for?
A dangling, fleshy mass of strange creatures resembling humans is about to board the Maw.
They’re The Guests, and they are very hungry.
Once seated at the table, they begin to eat in perpetual motion, like bottomless black holes. Woe to disturbing their meal!
You must be extremely cautious not to be caught because they appear slow and distracted, but you are still food.
Finally, we are dealing with the watchful eye in person, which I haven’t mentioned before, but it has caused us quite a few problems along the way.
Who is behind this eye that sees everything, even in the Maw’s darkest and most hidden corners?
We meet The Lady, who with graceful restraint, casts a hypnotic spell that keeps the engine running and does not tolerate disturbance to its guests.
FOLLOW THE NOMES’ LEAD
I’d like to spend a few words on the gameplay, though there isn’t much to say.
Little Nightmares takes place in a 2.5D world. The player navigates the world using various platformer elements, and occasionally they find themselves to solve puzzles in order to advance.
As small and weak, Six can only proceed in stealth mode. Only a few times does the player receive tools that help to even the odds and allow them to fight back.
Take, for example, the small creatures with the pointed hat, the Nomes, who manage to survive in the Maw by hiding in the various holes.
One strategy for survival is to create distractions, which brings us back to the famous jingle I mentioned earlier. When Six finds herself dealing with the Janitor’s grabbing power, while in a huge bookcase with dizzying shelves, there will be a point where, in order to deceive her enemy, the little girl will have to turn on this little television that is in a room, otherwise empty room, luring the Janitor into it and gaining enough time to escape.
VERY LITTLE NIGHTMARES
Very Little Nightmares is a mobile puzzle adventure game in which the player controls Six as she attempts to escape from an odd mansion.
Released on May 2019 and developed by Alike Studio, it’s a small new adventure in which you can discover more about the backstory of our little protagonist.
WHICH COMES FIRST, LITTLE NIGHTMARES I OR LITTLE NIGHTMARES II?
And now we get to the point.
Released on February 10, 2021, always by Tarsier Studios and published by Bandai Namco, for both PC and Console, Little Nightmares II is actually considered a prequel.
This time, we are in the shoes of a little boy who always wears a mask (mainly a paper bag with holes for the eyes). His name is Mono and he clings to the hope that this mask will protect him from a world that hates him and wants him to fail.
At the beginning of his misadventure, Mono finds Six locked up in a room, held captive by the fierce Hunter, and once freed, they will embark their journey together.
Now, we have on stage all of the possible bogeys that a child’s (and not only) mind can fear: the School and the Hospital.
Both are located within the Pale City, a distorted (literally) city strewn with old TVs, which Mono will use as portals several times even to access a corridor he saw in a dream, from which Six will forcibly pull him out each time.
Inside the school, we find the archetypes of childhood fears that can arise in such an environment: the Bullies and the Teacher.
The former will make life difficult for our heroes by persecuting and attacking them in groups.
They, too, are victims of a greater evil: the Teacher. This wrinkled and disturbing woman from the past wields a long stick and dislikes even the slightest jolt. Children can be seen but not heard; once heard, they cannot be seen again.
Its neck, whose length is unknown, is quite similar to the Janitor’s arms, which previously caused us trouble.
Otherwise, in the hospital, we’ll have to deal with the the Patients and the dreadful Doctor, who runs on the ceiling like a disaster about to strike us.
But the best (or worst) is yet to come.
After escaping the hospital and its malevolent presences, we find ourselves wandering around the Pale City, where we begin to meet the Viewers.
The latter, dazed and faceless, stand in front of the old TVs, which are the only way to keep them pleased and peaceful. If you dare, try turning one off.
But there is a disturbing presence in all of this that makes us more afraid than anything else we have encountered thus far.
Mono comes across this figure as he crosses the portals, and as the story progresses, it becomes more and more menacing.
This is the Thin Man, and you must contend with him until the end.
But not only with him…
So, let’s arrive at the dreadful Signal Tower to discover the source of the evil that is spreading across the world’s television screens.
In conclusion, there is a final plot twist that I have not revealed to you (but anyone who has played it knows exactly what I mean) that makes the storyline of this formidable title the spearhead of the entire narrative, finally putting in perspective the story from the beginning to the end (beginning so to speak).
I won’t add anything else, apart from that: if you haven’t played Little Nightmares yet, you deserve to go back to class with our lovely Teacher.