App Reviewed on: iPhone XR
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For whatever reason, premium mobile titles associated with non-mobile game properties generate a lot of hype. This is very much the case with Very Little Nightmares, a mobile prequel to Little Nightmares, a game that came out for PC and console back in 2017. Unfortunately though, all this hype is for naught, as this puzzle adventure feels like a Monument Valley also-ran, and not a particularly great one at that.
Very Little Nightmares is a game played in portrait mode that has you tapping through environments to solve puzzles and advance a sort of narrative that is mostly told via its setting. In it, you play as a little girl in a raincoat as she’s trying to escape a bizarre mansion full of macabre and unnerving scenes.
On its face, it may look like a horror version of Monument Valley (or perhaps Where Shadows Slumber). Very Little Nightmares is a lot less abstract with its presentation and puzzles, though. You use keys, climb things, push boxes around, and activate switches to progress forward. There’s no mechanics that give you special powers to move structures around you or manipulate light and shadow. Perhaps that’s the point. This is a horror game, after all, and what better way make players feel scared than to make you feel small and powerless?
As much as Very Little Nightmares tries to create tension or—at the very least—ground its world, I found myself not really caring about any of it. Horror is a hard thing to get right, and it’s even more difficult when trying to evoke it on a six inch screen. Very Little Nightmares then ups this challenge even more by tying its scares to a game full of puzzles that regularly force players to resort to trial-and-error tactics to get through them.
Yes, Very Little Nightmares is a puzzle game that’s biggest problem is the puzzles themselves. With rare exception, all of the game’s challenges are some combination of obtuse, boring, or frustrating. This only gets worse the further you get into the game, as quick reactions become increasingly necessary to avoid dying while puzzle-solving.
If poor puzzles weren’t bad enough, Very Little Nightmares also suffers from not being all that mobile-friendly. Despite being built specifically for the small screen, this game has clunky tap controls and pathfinding, as well as an inconsistent checkpointing system.
There are also specific scenes that are extremely dark and at least one sound-based puzzle, which can present problems if you are playing in a bright place or with the sound off, or both. You know, conditions that are entirely plausible—and even probable—to be in when playing a mobile game.
The bottom line
Aside from some nice art, there’s not a whole lot to enjoy about Very Little Nightmares. From top to bottom, the game feels poorly conceived. It doesn’t work as a horror tone-piece, a puzzle game, or a mobile experience, which is a pretty big problem if you’re trying to make a horror-themed puzzle game on mobile.