Available on PS4, Xbox One and PC in 2017
It’s no small task to make someone feel genuinely uneasy at a heaving trade show, but in just 20 short minutes Little Nightmares’ world of murky misery managed to burrow its way under my skin.
Without even a hint of exposition, I'm immediately dropped into Tarsier Studio’s strange and twisted world. The first thing that strikes you about this game is its jaw-dropping art style. Reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline or an early Tim Burton film, every pixel on screen oozes a consistently hazy, nightmarish quality.
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Falling from a small hole in the wall, I find myself inhabiting the body of a mysterious little girl in a yellow raincoat. I’m standing in a cavernous bedroom, its muted colour palette, chilling paintings and foreboding sense of stillness instinctively putting me on edge. As I take my first step into the room a flurry of startled pointy-headed creatures hear me and scatter off in fear, throwing themselves behind a nearby cupboard. After nervously looking around I realise I’m now alone, with only a large suitcase and the eerie notes of a children’s lullaby keeping me company.
I set about exploring the large, abandoned bedroom before me. After checking under the beds and scaling the room’s towering shelves, I notice an obelisk of a door to my right, its handle just too high for my tiny arms too reach. Making my way back down to the suitcase, I hold down R2 and drag it over to the door. After clambering onto it I leap up and manage to grab the door handle, my legs dangling in the air as my weight pulls the handle down, opening the wooden door before me.
Dropping down through the newly opened door, I find myself standing in a pitch-black corridor. There’s no way I’m taking my chances in the dark, so with a quick tap of R3 I pull out my lighter, creating a small flame that flickers hypnotically in the darkness, illuminating me and my little yellow rain coat. I quickly make my way along the ominous and beautifully lit corridor and soon find myself facing a barred elevator adorned with the symbol of an all-seeing eye. I jump up to pull the elevator’s oversized switch and step onto the elevator. The bars suddenly fall down around me and I make my descent to the floor below.
Finding myself in a red tiled room, I'm immediately advised to "hold L2 to sneak" and after hearing the unmistakable scratching of someone sharpening knives nearby, I don’t need to be told twice. Nervously edging my way across the filthy tiled floor, I make my way towards an enormous open door frame to my right. Crouching, I cross the door frame, only to find myself suddenly in a gigantic kitchen, sitting only inches away from a monstrous knife-wielding chef. Terrified and with nowhere to go, I quickly dart under the table he’s preparing food on. He turns around, aware of my presence. With my heart threatening to burst out of my chest, I push the analogue stick as hard as I can, scurrying as close to the wall as the game will let me.
The chef's eyes dart furiously across the kitchen as he begins his search. By some small miracle he doesn’t think to look under the table and with a huff and a puff he returns to chopping his meat, completely oblivious to my tiny body cowering beneath him.
After what seems like an age, the chef stops chopping. Satisfied with his work, he grunts his approval and stabs his knife into the table. He slowly turns his back to me and waddles over to the boiling pot opposite, gasping with every step until he reaches the bubbling water, dropping a rancid sausage into it. Knowing what I must do, I quickly scurry out from under the table to an adjacent cupboard, sliding under it just in the nick of time.
Panting and wheezing, the chef waddles his way back towards the chopping table. I sneak across the kitchen behind him, anxiously continuing my crouched crab walk across the kitchen, completely exposed. Just as I make it past him and cross the second kitchen’s door frame, I hear an ear-piercing screech. He’s seen me. Darting to the right, I spring up and sprint towards the closest hiding space I can find. The chef moves with surprising speed for his size, shuffling furiously towards me, his hands closing just behind me as I dart under a sink. Enraged, the gargantuan chef swipes angrily at the shadows before reluctantly heading back to his chopping.
With the game’s audio still pumping out the sound of a furiously throbbing heartbeat, and my own heart rate not too far behind it, I dart across the second half of the kitchen, climbing a short flight of stairs past a second chef salting a fish. He roars, and I don’t stick around. With the door in front of me barred from the other side, I spot a shelf in the corner only a few feet away from me and clamber up it as quickly as my tiny digital legs will carry me. The chef at the base of the shelves is shrieking and flailing his arms below me as I make my way through a hole in the wall and drop down to the safety of the next room.
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Still listening to the demonic cries of the chef as he bangs on the other side of the door, I see a huge meat grinder at the end of the room and an elevator beside me. I immediately pull the elevator’s switch, and ride it down to the safety of the floor below. When the lift opens I find myself standing on a blood-soaked, tiled floor, husks of meat hanging ominously from the ceiling.
Looking around the small abattoir, I see a large shelf on my left and what looks like a trap door with a ham resting on it to my right. I spy another fallen piece of meat and drag it over to the trap door next to the ham that’s sitting there, spying a potential puzzle. I see another ham protruding off the shelf edge. Not wanting it to feel lonely, I make my way up the shelf and push the ham off it and onto the trap door with the others. With nothing else to do in the room, I take the elevator back up to the floor above.
Stepping out of the elevator this time, I notice the suspiciously trap-door-like panel in the ceiling above the meat grinder. I pull the rope dangling next to it and the trap door flings open, dropping the meat into the grinder below. As I turn the handle, the grinder slowly spits out a line of sausages that hang down from the long protruding tube. Seeing a hole in the wall opposite me I leap forward, grabbing my sausage rope and swinging myself across and through the tiny gap.
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The gap turns out to be the entrance to a pitch-black ventilation shaft. I pull out my lighter and follow its flickering flame as I slowly crawl through the shaft ahead. Just as I see a dip in the shaft, bang, a rogue shoe violently falls down the shaft in front of me. Nervous that something is following me, I hurriedly jump down to the lower level of the vent, scurrying past a trail of discarded shoes until the shaft ends and drops me into a huge room filled with what looks like murky water.
My chest tightens as I quickly realise that this isn’t water; it’s a sea of thousands of discarded shoes. With nowhere else to go, I jump in apprehensively, wading through the shoes up to my neck. I slowly force my way through the endless tide of shoes and start to hear a rumble behind me. Trying to run, I desperately fight my way through the shoes, only to see something moving behind me – underneath the shoes. I can make it, I’ll make it, just a few more... Crunch.
"Thank you for playing." The demo fades to black.
I take off my headphones and stagger back into the convention centre. This is one nightmare that I think will stay with me for a long time.