‘Lit­tle Night­mares’ runs player through maze of hor­rors

The Washington Times Daily - - LIFE - BY JOE SZADKOWSKI

The premise of a child try­ing to es­cape a gaunt­let 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 ly­ing in an open steamer trunk.

Once awak­ened 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 wield­ing only a cig­a­rette lighter and a player’s wits.

The in­trigu­ing premise leads to a roughly six-hour 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’ fairy tale.

Un­set­tling visual el­e­ments in­clude dead bod­ies hang­ing and sway­ing from the rafters, slimy black 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.

Mas­sive sway­ing chains, creak­ing wooden plank­ing, blood-stained con­crete, mat­tresses that belch dust when jumped on, water-drip­ping ven­ti­la­tion ducts, child-size 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.

Mix­ing into the five-chap­ter story are some truly bizarre el­e­ments such as the in­tro­duc­tion of gnome­like 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 pip­squeak ap­pears to be­come her friend, tem­po­rar­ily fol­low­ing her.

The great am­biance of 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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