Spotlight: Little Nightmares

When Nintendo announced that Tarsier Studios’ “charming and horrific” puzzle platformer, Little Nightmares, was coming to the Nintendo Switch, I was instantly intrigued. I’d never heard of the title before, but quickly learned that it’s enjoyed massive critical and player acclaim since it was released in early 2017 for Windows, PS4, and Xbox One. What’s more, it’s been reported that Anthony and Joe Russo (AKA the Russo Brothers, directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War, as well as Avengers: Infinity War and its upcoming, untitled sequel) are partenring with director Henry Selick (the Academy Award-nominated director behind James and the Giant Peach, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline) to adapt Little Nightmares for TV. Given the poor track record of film and television adaptations of video games in the past (I’m looking at you, Bioshock), I take that news with a huge grain of salt, but it’s still worth mentioning for the simple fact that Little Nightmares managed to attract the attention of acclaimed filmmakers within a matter of months.

Bandai Namco Entertainment—Little Nightmares’ publisher—does an excellent job of describing the game as “a darkly whimsical tale, set in an immersive world of great sensibility, interactive storytelling and outstanding sound design.” In it, there are two coinciding stories: a main quest starring a child in a yellow raincoat named Six, and a side quest featuring a child with long hair and a blue shirt called The Runaway Kid. Both stories are non-verbal, without any sort of context or explanation beyond what you see and hear, and each one takes the player on a different journey through The Maw—the facility in which the children are held captive—with different encounters with the horrifying characters found throughout. Each story reveals something new about the underlying lore of The Maw and its inhabitants, but each one tasks the player with trying to help each child achieve the same goal: escape.

I was hooked within the first few minutes of firing up the game on my Nintendo Switch, partly because it released without any glaring glitches or cosmetic issues (a feat by today’s standards, unfortunately), but mostly because of its gothic, Tim Burton-esque aesthetic. And by the end, Little Nightmares managed to solidify itself as one of the most impactful games I’ve had the privilege to play in a very long time. It wasn’t particularly life-changing, but its art style, its soundtrack, and its unique take on an often tired genre have me mentally revisiting the game and pondering its world, its characters, its plot, and its meaning long after each story’s powerful ending.

Little Nightmares is a short experience that took me only about 4 hours to complete, and while this length did leave something to be desired, it also made replaying the game to see what else I might pick up on, as well as searching for any collectibles I might have missed, an easy decision. Unfortunately, such a short playtime also makes it difficult to talk about the game without spoiling any of its surprises (because trust me, you want them to stay a surprise).

All this is to say that Little Nightmares is truly a diamond in the rough. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone looking for not only a new game to play on whatever system they call home, but a game that defies conventions and adds much needed variety, as well as a compelling story and unique atmosphere that culminates into an overall experience unlike anything available today.

Little Nightmares: Complete Edition is available now for Nintendo Switch, as well as for Windows, PS4, and Xbox One.

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