Republished on Wednesday 27th July 2022: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of August's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Much like LittleBigPlanet, the macabre puzzle platformer Little Nightmares includes sugar, spice, and all things nice – it just chooses to stir them into a broth predominantly dominated by decapitated body parts. Having worked alongside Media Molecule for many years, it's no surprise to see this interpretive affair play similarly to Sackboy's several outings – just swap the splodges of sponge for sausage strings and you'll get the right idea.
The three to four hour adventure sees you assume the role of Six, an anoraked infant imprisoned in an underwater facility known as the Maw. As is the case in Playdead's seminal Inside, you're given very little context about your plight, it's just made abundantly obvious that you need to escape. Environmental story-telling reveals a little more about your predicament, though there's arguably not quite enough meat on the narrative's bones for you to infer exactly what it's all about.
Hunger is a persistent theme, however, as your debilitating tummy rumbles antithesise the gluttony of the vessel's podgy personnel. The artwork is a persistent treat, as it channels its inner-Tim Burton with curious gothic creations. Where the former film director plumps up for tall and slim figurines, though, plump caricatures make up much of the nightmarish cast here. The cleft lipped chefs are a particular highlight, but there are plenty of others along the way.
Unfortunately, the puzzles are less memorable, relying on rudimentary stealth gameplay and simple object manipulation. One sees you fashion a makeshift bridge out of bratwurst, but you won't be remembering many others in a hurry. This is compounded by some cumbersome controls, which feel heavy and lean a little too prominently on uncomfortably long trigger holds to get important tasks done. It just doesn't feel as good as it should.
The perspective is also a problem, playing out from a cross-section viewpoint but incorporating 3D depth into the scene. While this opens up more exploration opportunities – and gives the impression of a deadly diorama that you're wandering around in – it leads to issues where you'll inevitably misjudge your position and perish. The added depth enabled by virtual reality could have helped minimise this issue, but PlayStation VR is not supported.
That said, the atmosphere inside Sony's headset would well prove intolerable for some; the game is not scary in the traditional sense, but it is unsettling. Moody lighting paired with the dark art direction help set the scene, but it's the sound that seasons the dismal dish. Sometimes the game reduces its soundscape to no noise at all, but it crescendos into an inferno of discord during chase sequences, as the controller pulsates in unison with your pounding heartbeat.
Little Nightmares is like a fledgling chef's interpretation of a gourmet dish: it looks the part and hits the spot – but it won't live too long in the memory once you've greedily gobbled it up. Outstanding presentation is paired with some forgettable puzzles and a slightly fragmented fiction, leaving a feast that will satisfy without ever really forcing your tastebuds to explode.