Recently a friend asked me to play a game called Little Nightmares.
This request has been one of the best arguments I have for peer pressure occasionally being a good thing, because it quickly rocketed to ‘best video game I’ve played all year’ and definitely holds a place in my top five games of all time. I’ll add some qualifiers to that, because just because I love something doesn’t mean I think it’s flawless, but it definitely qualifies for one of my top five slots.
The reason it immediately rocketed to the list of my favourite games was the fact that this game has so much going on. While there are a few things I take issue with, on the whole, the level design was excellent, the aesthetic design was amazing, the gameplay was mostly smooth, and the amount of thought put into making this game just blew me away, honestly.
And because I can’t get it out of my head, like I did with Mass Effect, I decided I’m going to write a little series on it.
Honestly I’m having trouble deciding if I should write this blog series or if I should record playing it again, and try and go through it step by step. I think I’ll be able to get a lot more comments on level design in that way, which will be hard to write about without people being familiar with the game (and since I probably won’t be including pictures, because I’m still not sure how many I can include before there starts to be copyright issues). I might see how popular these blog posts are and then maybe do the playthrough if these get interest. I definitely need to play the game again myself (if only because I missed a lot of achievements and want to try a few new paths), so I’m happy to record it while I do so.
I also recorded my first playthrough so that my friend who requested it could see how I reacted to all of it. If people are interested in the more running-screaming-reacting type of gameplay, I’m more than happy to put that up, too.
So, as usual, let me get all the opinionated stuff out of the way first.
I love this game. I love it to pieces. About halfway through I sat down to play a half an hour or so and ended up playing two and a half hours, unable to stop until I’d finished the game entirely, by sheer force of the narrative. I know I’m about to pick it apart, but please let me do so with the full understanding that I adored this game.
I had a few problems with the mechanics, though. I’m a button masher by nature, and when I was being chased by things, it was sometimes difficult for me to coordinate running and sliding, or running and jumping up onto things, because of either the fact that I have trouble operating Left Shift and Left Ctrl together under pressure, or because I was required to be working on a very particular angle that I couldn’t always get to. But that was very minor. The DLC though – that had a lot more control problems, and I really found it a bit of a slog, if I’m perfectly honest.
I also thought that the DLC was less cohesive as a whole, and didn’t really give me the sense of a greater interpretation that the main one did. I really had a feeling that the main game was treating the setting and characters like both entities in their own right and pieces that represented other things and had thematic relationships with each other. The DLC, I found to be much more literal. It’s a small distinction, but I think it’s part of the reason that I was a bit disappointed with the DLC – I was expecting more layers to everything and more interconnectivity, and the DLC really didn’t deliver on that the same way as the main game did. I also think the puzzle design wasn’t quite as tight – the main game was very good at moving you through areas. Each room was a distinct little snippet of the area, and it never seemed samey or boring. The DLC, on the other hand, went for a more open design, with several puzzle rooms branching off the main area, which I really think did the design a disservice; it kept you in similar areas for far too long, and meant you were backtracking through the same areas a lot, something that you were almost never required to do in the main game (especially since the puzzle solutions could be a bit opaque at times. Example: There was one room in the last section where you needed to pull a lamp like a lever – the first time this has ever been an option in the game. The only hints to guide you to that decision was the fact that the lamp had an extra slot on its connection to the wall, and occasionally it flickered. In such a dark, foggy environment, where flickering lights have been somewhat of a feature, it wasn’t as obvious as I think the devs intended it to be). So in the end, the areas felt much less interesting to be in, and much less enchanting, simply because you were moving through them long enough for them to be a bit too familiar.
Since I’m still considering putting up a video for the purposes of picking apart the level design (because I am sorely tempted to go through that on a molecular level and I can’t do that in text), I’ll probably not touch on that too much in these. That’s more mechanics though, so I feel like I can still talk analysis without going into the level design in that much detail.
For the purpose of the series: I’ve played through the entire main game and DLC, but I haven’t got 100% of the achievements. I have, however, looked up what they are. I’ve watched a few other playthroughs and a few theory videos. I’ve read a couple of interviews with the creators, but nowhere near all of them. And I’ve read the official companion comics. So unless someone can point out some stuff I’ve missed, I’ve consumed all the canon content, but only dipped into the extra and fan content.
I’ve also heard that the game is very similar to Inside and Limbo. I’ve played Limbo but not Inside. I won’t be bringing either of those up because they’re not connected to this game except in terms of maybe taking inspiration from their styles – there’s no connection in the worlds that the games are set in, the characters that they feature, or any of the in-game lore, so I won’t be going into them.
And here’s the schedule for the next few weeks.
First, I’m going to have another little diversion – I’ll be talking about how I’m approaching deciding what is canon and what isn’t (because there’s a few extra kinks to work out in that regard when we’re talking video games).
Then I’ll dive into the game proper.
I’ll start with the enemy design, how they escalate through the series, and the sort of imagery that each of them uses.
Then I’ll talk a bit about the kind of horror that the game is, and why it hits a lot of the horror beats, without relying on jumpscares.
After that, I’ll talk about the difference between the literal and the metaphorical interpretations of the game, a few theories I’ve seen floating around, and kind of compare-and-contrast the two approaches.
Finally I’ll bite the bullet and present the Theory Of Everything Little and Nightmarish According To Lee – just a theory of course, and probably missing quite a lot of the details, so feel free to poke holes in it in the comments.
Well, that’s the intro, so let’s dive into it!