Out of almost 300 games reviewed for this site, I’ve only failed to finish something like 5-10 of them. Whatever the number currently is, Little Nightmares has ensured that it’s now one more than it used to be; the thought of playing another second of this awkward, predictable tripe is so unbearable that I stopped and resolved to never continue. That’s not to insinuate that this is the worst game I’ve ever played—merely that magical mix of underwhelming and tedious that isn’t appallingly terrible in the way some games manage to be, but pointless enough to get in the back of your head reminding you of the million other things you’d rather be doing. If I had to guess how long I spent playing Little Nightmares before deciding that literally anything else would be a more rewarding use of my time, my gut estimation is that I wasted 40 years fighting against its awkward gameplay and insulting attempts to be so~oo~oo spoo~oo~ooky. In reality, it’s probably closer to an hour and a half, which from what I’ve read is probably about halfway into the game. Or at least around that point. That was far enough to cement my initial impression that was only backed up over time, though: this game fails at everything it tries to do.
I care about none of this
You know, usually games are able to get me invested in some way by the halfway mark, but halfway into Little Nightmares, all I felt was bored and tired. If the game actually has a story beyond “weird person in yellow coat in a weird place being chased by weird people and also the building seriously needs an electrician,” then I never came across it. Basically, the story is that yellow coat wanders around and stupidity ensures. Oodles of maddening stupidity. An internet search suggests that yellow coat is a she, which is helpful for the following sentences: the main character and her proclivity for unspeakably stupid behavior is unbearable. She constantly has these absurd hunger pangs that seem to occur within 15-20 minutes of each other, and these drive her to do such brilliant things as eating food given to her by a stranger, eating food conveniently located in an open cage that’s 100% not an obvious trap, and even eat a live rat for some completely random reason.
The line between desperation and annoyance
Of course, I know exactly why she eats the rat. She does so because the game really wants to drive home how desperate she is, stranded all alone in this spooky place. Like so much else, it only comes across as contrived; the music is practically nonexistent save for ambient noises like creaking and the heavy breathing of the occasional enemy who wants to eat yellow coat, the camera is useless, you’re limited to checkpoint saves, yellow coat runs and jumps with the athleticism of an especially fragile octogenarian, and the vast majority of gameplay consists of slowly crawling around and trying to differentiate the parts of the environment that can actually be interacted with from those that are merely pretty decorations that will get yellow coat eaten if you bother with them. At one point, I walked past a crack in the wall and a long-armed enemy suddenly reached out and grabbed me for an insta-death. Oh, and most death is insta-death. You know, because spooky.
It’s all designed around making the player feel disempowered, and to the game’s credit, that’s a legitimately positive point in its favor. Or at least it would be if playing through the game ever made you feel like you’re controlling a disempowered character. The following difference is fairly subtle, but bear with me: I never felt like I was playing as a vulnerable child so much as a younger version of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day who also happens to have a sprained ankle and is covered in pots and pans that makes him weirdly detectable by enemies. That might sound like an indictment against the checkpoint saves not being punishing enough, but in actuality I felt that they would always send me back just far enough to become needlessly grating. Instead, my problem is that Little Nightmares isn’t scary or spooky or anything remotely along those lines. It’s relatively atmospheric, but that doesn’t really translate into a feeling of being disempowered when getting caught has no effect other than making you blurt out, “why the hell could they see me under that table but not under that other table?” Some games are endlessly absorbing, but Little Nightmares is instead constantly hitting you in the face with a sponge. But like, in a totally spooky way. Also, the sponge screams, but it’s pitch-shifted down to be less of a jump scare because that’s totally how that works.
The gameplay in one sentence
Yellow coat enters a room and either solves a minor physics puzzle to move on or sneaks past some totally grotesque enemy (except they all look like giant Muppets that have had their faces melted in a fire and I couldn’t stop laughing at them), with each enemy’s animation changing once yellow coat gets far enough past them to make the new movement cycle super spooky. It’s entirely possible that the gameplay is switched up later on, but that’s all I was able to stomach before I yearned for the sweet release of death to spare me any further monotony.
The physics suck
Imagine a game largely revolving around platforming and physics puzzles. Now imagine that the game in question has terrible physics. It blows my mind that this has ever happened, much less that it continues to happen, but here we are. At one point I had to lug three pieces of meat over a hatch opened by a switch so that they would fall into a sausage-making machine. The problem I had here and in many other places is that the slightest raised edge—like, say, the edge of the closed hatch—becomes a nearly impassable obstacle and can force you to move back and forth to accomplish something that should be as easy as dragging something from point A to point B. Earlier in the game, I broke an object on the ground before I had to drag something else through the area. Each little fragment acted like a brick wall. The platforming physics fare similarly, so you should go in expecting to fall off of ledges as the awkward camera angles and awkward momentum (for someone whose running speed maxes out at a leisurely jog, yellow coat sure has a lot of weight behind her movements) sabotage you. Climbing somehow manages to be even worse, with your ability to climb things seemingly determined by some fickle god orchestrating things behind the scenes rather than a consistent set of criteria. For example, yellow coat has the upper-body strength to climb up a chain link and jump to a platform, but is frequently unable to pull herself up onto tables, boxes, and anything else that would be remotely convenient to access. Because spooky.
Inconsistency is the worst
Yellow coat carries around a lighter and can be made to light various candle-type things, at which point something saves. Obviously this drives home the idea that light = good. Then you step into a room where an eye is creating light and it petrifies you if you stand in it too long. Also, it slows down your movement speed, inevitably catching you halfway between safe points and making you watch as you slowly trudge toward safety, only to die a single step away. Then there are chairs. One of the first things you do is move a chair, so imagine how fun it is to later find yourself in areas where being able to move the chairs would be incredibly helpful, only to discover that these chairs, in their overwhelming spookiness, are bolted to the floor and thus unable to be moved. Or perhaps yellow coat’s arm muscles suddenly atrophy like they do when she tries to pull herself up on top of a box. There are so many stupid possibilities that it’s difficult to discern which particular flavor is making things miserable at any given time. Anyway, the overarching point is that rooms start to feel more like you trying to tap into the same mental frequencies the developers were on when designing them than a coherent rule set where you know what can and can’t be interacted with and thus have a chance to not run toward something and get eaten because this time it’s only decoration, duh.
I hate everything about this game
Okay, almost everything—the graphics are passable. Music doesn’t really exist here, or at least it didn’t make an appearance by the time I decided to quit. I’m well aware of the penchant these artsy games have for including music toward the end, however, so it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to find out that things suddenly get musical later on. The mechanics/physics/characters/spookiness are all terrible, though. Playing Little Nightmares made me want to do all kinds of more interesting things like learning karate or mowing the lawn. I don’t even own a lawnmower.