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Little Nightmares looks like Tim Burton's idea of childhood

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How can something so creepy also be so cute?

There's a dark side to childhood, and Tarsier Studios wants to explore it.

The Sweden-based indie developer, best known for working on Sony and Media Molecule's LittleBigPlanet, is delving into something far more ominous with its latest game, Little Nightmares. Speaking to Polygon, senior narrative designer Dave Mervik said the team wants to explore feelings of alienation and surreal fear from a new perspective.

Little Nightmares, which is heading to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2017, follows a leggy little girl in an oversized yellow hood named Six as she looks for a way out of The Maw. The Maw is as mysterious as it is ominous. Mervik said that there's little known about it, other than the fact that it "pretty much shows up wherever it likes, completely unannounced."

"It's about asking questions and creating mysteries"

Six is tiny compared to the dangers around her; she's a mouse fleeing for cover. She's surprisingly agile, however, and can climb up or over obstacles with ease. Most of the time in our demo was spent scrambling as the Chef — who sort of looks like a doughy, nightmare version of The Muppets' Swedish Chef — shuffled around his kitchen. If Six is brazen enough to dash in front of him, it doesn't end well; Chef isn't a fan of vermin in his kitchen. The best she can do is run, hide and hope he'll give up.

"We didn't want to give her special super powers or weapons, something a kid can't do," Mervik said. "Instead we gave her a very simple set of abilities and concentrate on using them."

The game has a very specific aesthetic and a vibe that would feel right at home in the dark, quirky mind of someone like Tim Burton. Characters are exaggerated in their features; the world is gloomy and filled with grotesque creatures. Mervik said that the team is not trying to create a "dark LittleBigPlanet," however, as some might guess.

"What we wanted to have was a world you wanted to explore, and that really felt kind of present, rather than just set dressing," he said. "It's just kind of this little element from all these different people's perspectives in the studio.

"We've not wanted to make a game about just giving you the answers ... It's about asking questions and creating mysteries from the outset."