Playing Little Nightmares, it’s easy to see what developer Tarsier Studios has worked on before. The newest title from the long-time Media Molecule collaborator absolutely screams LittleBigPlanet, while also taking the formula in a new and horrifying direction.
Little Nightmares follows the story of a very small child (and/or Borrower) as they make their way through the kitchen of a grotesque chef who’d like nothing more but to catch and eat them. The game combines LittleBigPlanet’s physics-based puzzle platforming with survival horror stealth sections, and on the whole it pulls it off incredibly well.
Each room sees you try to creep around the chef through various means. Sometimes it’s as simple as sneaking under and around the work surfaces while it goes about its business, other times it’s about carefully timing when you get past obstacles that’ll clearly alert the monster to your presence. It borrows heavily from LittleBigPlanet insofar as you can grab, pull, and swing from various objects in the environment in the exact same way.
However, the demo did feel somewhat mechanically disconnected. It’s easy to point to various rooms and say “here’s the sneaking room, here’s the physics puzzle room, here’s the second sneaking room” and so on. I would’ve liked to have seen some puzzles blended in with the stealth sections, as the stealth only served to bridge the gap between two pretty simply puzzles.
As disjointed as they are, the rooms in the demo dripped with a horrifically cute Tim Burton-ish atmosphere. It’s not scary in a jump-scare sense, instead it is simply very disconcerting. Everything is caked in grime and dirt and the perspective of being so small not only makes the chef all the more terrifying, but also transforms the domestic environments into something more alien and difficult to comprehend. Swinging along some clearly dodgy sausages as the chef tries to bust a door down, or clattering around the filthy pots and pans as you try to scurry away in a hurry is an incredibly tense experience.
And that’s all ignoring the stellar sound design. Even playing in the busy convention hall of EGX with a fairly flimsy pair of headphones I was disturbed by the high-pitched shrieking and screaming of the chef when it laid eyes on me, the sickly dolloping of ground up meat and the bubbling of off-colour soup. At one point I handed my headset over to somebody I was at the event with while I played, and they were made just as uncomfortable by the sound direction as I was.
While they are at thematic polar opposites, it’s impossible to not see the influence LittleBigPlanet has had on Little Nightmares. Tarsier has nailed the aesthetics already, so now the big question is whether they’re able to move beyond their former projects and make something that feels cohesive and original.
We’ll find out if it can when Little Nightmares launches for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 sometime in 2017.