Hide and Seek is a horror game. You run from a pursuer, hurriedly choose a hiding spot, then just wait – with only breath and heartbeat in your ears – for a pair of legs to pass your slim field of view. They stop. You stop breathing. They pass. You start breathing. And then they’re back, you’re caught, the game is over. It’s a design that horror games have always favoured, but where most shock by using the moment of being found, Little Nightmares captures something more nuanced: that creeping fright of waiting to be caught.
If you were going to be dull about it, you’d describe Little Nightmares as a 2D stealth puzzle platformer. Guiding a tiny, raincoated character called Six from left to right through the sea-swaying innards of The Maw (an ocean facility with a slowly revealed, despicable purpose) is a matter of avoiding instant-death hazards and gentle puzzling about how to proceed – but it rarely feels as plainly mechanical as that. At around five hours long, Little Nightmares feels slightly too brief –- the implied sense of scale suggests there was surely more Maw to see than the route Six takes –- but that’s perhaps testament to how much fun Tarsier has with throwing ideas at us and leaving them aside once they’re done.