Hands-on: Little Nightmares is a creepy platformer full of visceral physics fun

One look at Little Nightmares is enough to tell you it's not a game for kids, even though it is built on a foundation of childhood fears. This is a game where you play a very small girl in a big, scary world, and the playable demo on display at PAX East showed off the game's distinctive and unsettling visuals, monstrous enemies, and physics-based puzzles. 

Run and hide

In Little Nightmares you take on the role of a young girl named Six, who has been kidnapped and is trying to escape from a bizarre underwater resort called The Maw. In the segment of the game I played, you guide Six through and around a kitchen which is the domain of the horrifying "chef" character seen in much of the game's marketing. Sneaking through the kitchen behind the chef was simple enough, though once I got past him I spent a few moments trying to get past a locked door, which was enough time for the chef to run Six down and grab her, which led to a "game over" packed with disturbing implications. 

I succeeded on my second try escaping the chef, though it was a close call, full of tension as I frantically climbed up a series of shelves to make my way through a hole in the wall. Soon afterwards I was exploring a dark storage room using the glow from a handheld lighter, and solved a puzzle that involved dragging hunks of meat as big as Six herself onto a trap door. 

Grab and drag

In the room below the trap door, I hopped, grabbed, and tugged a massive sausage grinder into action. The grinder turned the meat into a series of sausage links, which I was then able to use to swing across a gap into a vent leading to another room. It was all pretty gross and darkly humorous, but what surprised me the most was how satisfying all the physical interaction felt in the game.

Objects  in Little Nightmares have a feeling of mass and solidity that you don't often see in games like this, and the simple act of dragging heavy things across the floor was entertaining because of it. It made total sense when I was told that, though the game will probably take between four and eight hours to complete for the average player, the developers have seen some playtesters take much longer as they explore and interact with every object they can, just to see what happens. 

The best way to describe Little Nightmares might be "if Tim Burton made a really great Little Big Planet level." It effectively draws on the horrors of childhood, a time when everything around you is too big, you don't really know what's going on, and many things are dangerous. 

Little Nightmares is coming to PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on April 28.