- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The premise of a child trying to escape a gantlet of horrors offers a devilishly stylish and puzzling platformer for brave souls in Little Nightmares (Bandai Namco Entertainment, Rated Teen, reviewed on Xbox One, $19.99).

Reportedly 10 years in the making, the game introduces a barefoot 6-year-old girl named Six, wearing a hooded yellow raincoat and, at first, lying in an open steam trunk.

Once awaken from dreams about a woman dressed as a Geisha, she must navigate her way out of the bowels of a large vessel named the Maw and eventually get away from her apparent captors by only wielding a cigarette lighter and a player’s wits.

The intriguing premise leads to a roughly 6-hour long journey through a disturbing and slightly brain-torturing world filled with environmental obstacle courses and dangerous enemies waiting around every corner or hidden in nearly every patch of darkness ready to capture the girl.

Specifically, imagine if Tim Burton combined his might with “Hostel’s” Eli Roth and “Alice In Wonderland” illustrator John Tenniel while crafting a visual presentation tapping into the darkest of a Grimm Brothers’ fairytale.

Unsettling visual elements in this smothering gantlet of terror include: dead bodies hanging and swaying from the rafters; black slimy slugs dropping from the ceiling and ready to smother Six; a room filled with shoes with a monster lurking underneath the pile; and a rotating spotlight coming from an ornate eye that turns children into stone if they come in contact with the beam.

Atmosphere abounds as Six attempts to climb, sneak and swing her way to freedom, even resorting to eating a live rat stuck in a trap to quell a painful hunger episode.

Massive swaying chains, creaking wooden planking, blood-stained concrete, mattresses that belch dust when jumped on, water-dripping ventilation ducts, child-sized cages and rusted piping help ratchet up the tension.

However, listening to Six’s beating heart during any dangerous situation punctuated by the rumbling of the game controller certainly takes the anxiety levels over the top.

And, mixing into the five-chapter story are some truly bizarre elements such as the introduction of gnome-like creatures wearing funnel-shaped paper hats that cover their entire heads and often scatter when Six approaches them.

If she can mesmerize one by lighting a lamp, she can get close enough to hug it, and the pipsqueaks appears to become her friend, temporarily following her.

The great ambiance in the environments also presents some creepy animated adults looking to capture Six.

A blind, long-armed stalking janitor may never be forgotten by the player, as well as grotesquely bulbous-shaped chefs who look like Jabba the Hutts with legs ready to add Six to their menu.

Despite the visual brilliance, the controls will sometimes frustrate, especially during any stress-filled moments. It’s hard to control a desperate jump that may require Six to cling to a meat hook. Even ducking through tight passageways took too many attempts to line up Six with the hole.

Still, “Little Nightmares” startles with its unrelenting imagery and could definitely cause a few night terrors for the lost child trapped in all of us.


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