Tue, 09 Feb 2021
Title: Little Nightmares 2
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Nintendo Switch, Android, PC
Release date: February 11, 2021
Rating: PEGI 16
The first Little Nightmares game's biggest strength was its ability to make you feel small, helpless and alone in a world full of grotesque monsters, out to gobble you up. So when I heard that the sequel would introduce not only a second character to the mix but combat as well, I was worried that some of the charm that made the first game so great would be lost.
Thankfully my fears were unfounded as having both of these new mechanics not only freshened up what was already a great game but actually made me feel more vulnerable.
You play as Mono; a small boy with a paper bag on his head, who is mysteriously being drawn to an ominous signal tower at the center of a crumbling city. Venturing through five distinct locations, each with their own unique and ghoulish beasties waiting in the shadows.
Like the first game, Little Nightmares 2 does a sensational job of drawing you into its creepy world. Leaning heavily on its beautifully macabre lullaby score and stunningly unique Claymation-like character models, Little Nightmares might just have the most unique style in horror gaming. And it’s these very deliberate design choices that not only draw you in but help set the stage for a game where you play as a frail young boy surrounded by death and horror.
And it’s these very deliberate design choices that not only draw you in but help set the stage for a game where you play as a frail young boy surrounded by death and horror. Towering chairs and mountainous cabinets further exasperate just how small you are and the children’s toys littering each level further hammer home the idea that you are a child. The game masterfully takes power away from you in a tangible way that makes you feel more defenseless and less like you have your hands tied behind your back.
But you won’t be going through this trip alone as early on you find Six, the original protagonist from the first game, locked up in a cabin in the woods. You don’t get to play as Six this time around but she accompanies Mono throughout the majority of the game, helping him with hard to reach areas and providing clues to puzzles. Six will help you with puzzles, not in an intrusive way, but in the subtle, lingering way she hangs around certain areas. Teasing you to take a closer look at something that might guide you through.
Thankfully, developer Tarsier Studios does a great job of splitting the two leads up when they need to crank the fear factor up. Sections like in the hospital level, where Six has to boost you through a window so that you can get a key and your left all alone, walking through a ward of mannequins in the dark. Watching their silhouettes as they slowly start to jitter and jolt to life in the blackness. Coming for you with only your torch light as a defence.
Having those times with Six only heightens that feeling of loneliness you get when she’s gone. I would have loved to see more of a bond build between Mono and Six outside of just helping each other survive, but narrative interaction between the two is limited to Mono witnessing Six behave in a creepy manor, revealing there might be more to this little girl you’ve rescued that what you had originally thought.
It’s not often you have to take a hint though as every puzzle feels intuitive and completely natural to solve. Each puzzle feels hand crafted and totally unique from the last one. Very rarely will the game repeat a formula and feels fresh throughout the majority of its six-hour playtime. Almost every puzzle is environment based and this does a great job of, again, pulling you into the world of Little Nightmares. Watching how Six and enemies interact with objects is imperative to figuring out what to do next. Especially when it comes to finding away past the boss monster’s at the end of each level.
Like in the first game, each stage has a unique monster lurking about in the shadows. These represent the game stealth sequences and players will have to find ways to sneak past them or face the gruesome consequences. Stealth is a relatively straightforward no thrills and spills affair. Enemy movement is heavily scripted and if you fail the first time, is pretty easy to read the second time around.
This is one of my biggest criticisms of the game, in that the monsters that have the biggest build up are often the least scary.
These set pieces should be the bits that challenge you the most but unfortunately become nothing more than an exercise in trial and error, that is so heavily scripted that it just ends up being a case of memorising their movements and navigating accordingly.
More challenging puzzles in these sections would have really helped to escalate the difficulty and tension that the terrifying character models deserved.
At the end of each area you will be thrown in to an adrenaline-pumping chase sequence which is when Little Nightmares is arguably at its most dangerous. Frantically running away from the bundling horrors that chase you is genuinely terrifying and some of the most fun parts of the game.
There are some other big changes to the first game outside of the addition of Six accompanying you and the biggest change is the introduction of combat. Throughout the game there will be sections where Mono will have to face down his fears, head on using weapons such as a hammers and axes.
Given how tiny Mono is, these weapons are massive in comparison to him. To the point where Mono is having the drag it around behind him like a great weight. Every swing you take with weapons feel heavy and powerful. You’re not just swinging a melee weapon around frantically like would in other games and so every time you swing, you have to make sure you hit otherwise you leave yourself open to attack.
This model of combat helps to make you feel small and vulnerable yet again, and even the most unassuming of enemies like a detached hand seem like a deadly foe. But equally, its super satisfying to land a hit. Especially on some of the dolls that bully you in the school level. Each well-placed strike, shattering their porcelain heads.
Little Nightmares 2 does almost everything you’d hope for a sequel to do. Add some new mechanics, introduce new characters but importantly respect what made the original great. The atmosphere and puzzle design woven into each stage is some of the most lovingly created you’ll find in the horror genre.
It’s unfortunate that some of the scripting in the stealth sections of boss battles raise their heads again but ultimately Little Nightmares 2 is one of the most unique and engaging horror experiences you are likely to find on the market.