Review Copy provided by Bandai Namco. Reviewed on PC.
Little Nightmares turned out to be one of our favorite games when it came out 4 years ago. A bizarre amalgamation of cute and terrifying, it was certainly a memorable experience. So, when Tarsier Games announced a sequel, our expectations were naturally high. And after playing through Little Nightmares II, the boy was I left scratching my head. And for good reason, because in short, Little Nightmares II is creepy, bizarre, and utterly brilliant.
Instead of the little girl in a yellow raincoat, this time our story begins with a boy named Mono, who for some reason wakes up next to a TV in the middle of a forest. Just like Six woke up in the Maw out of nowhere, we have no idea how and why Mono ended up there. And sure enough, just like the previous game, our harrowing journey will be completed without the characters uttering a single word, adding another layer of mystery to the game’s already eerie atmosphere. But it’s that mystery that makes the world of Little Nightmares so intriguing.
Eventually, as we make our way out of the forest, we encounter a little kid who will be our companion for the rest of the game, helping us navigate our way through the levels, providing us with clues, and on one occasion, even strangling an enemy for us. Later she turns out to be Six from the first game.
When it comes to the story, a game like Little Nightmares II is a lot more conceptual, dealing with themes and interpretation rather than a fixed story. Sure, there is a narrative in place, but instead of being served to the player on a platter, it’s revealed via the game’s atmosphere, levels, and characters. And hoo boy, if you liked Little Nightmares for those reasons, you are going to love the sequel.
This is where the gameplay ties into the story as well. The more you look around, the more you pay attention to what’s in the background, the more you will learn about the world and lore of the game. Little Nightmares II takes everything that the first game did so well and cranks it up even more. For broad stroke purposes, it plays out like its predecessor – The Pale City is divided into chapters, each of which takes place in a different location with its own theme. But in Little Nightmares II, there’s just so much more to do, and so much more to be scared of.
For instance, when you make it to the school, not only do you have to be wary of The Teacher, who is the long-necked caretaker of the level, but also the Bullies. The Bullies are an entirely new enemy type – on the surface, they’re little kids just like Mono, but in reality, they’re just hollow shells who will kill you on sight. On the plus side, you do get to smash their heads with iron pipes and ladles, so it’s not a total loss.
And this brings us to the gameplay. While the fundamentals remain the same, there have been quite a lot of improvements. Six was more or less defenseless against the creatures of the Maw, whereas Mono can wield small weapons that you’ll find lying around. You can use these weapons to your advantage, to kill some of the smaller enemies and to get over obstacles as well.
Additionally, Little Nightmares was a wholly solitary, albeit a little lonely experience. In Little Nightmares II, though, you’ll always have your companion helping you out in little ways, meaning you’ll never truly be alone. Well, that’s not entirely true but we’ll let you discover that on your own. Instead, we’re going to talk about our favorite, and probably the most terrifying section of the game.
If you played Little Nightmares, you’ll remember that Six always had a lighter on her. There’s nothing of that sort going on in Little Nightmares II, but in the hospital, you discover a flashlight, in a room with spotty lights – you know, dim, flickering, that kind of stuff. On the other side of the room, there’s a creature that looks like that enemy but it doesn’t move, it’s like a statue. Pretty innocuous, right? Well, the moment you try flicking the switch, the light goes off, and that “statue” comes charging right at you. That is, until you shine your flashlight on him, which makes him freeze in place again. The next few sections are full of pitch-dark rooms and these enemies who will chase you as long as there’s no light, meaning you’ll be constantly struggling to keep a balance, looking ahead to see where you’re going, and looking back repeatedly to keep a safe distance between you and the enemies. Not only is the section brilliantly designed, the music, along with the creepy sound effects tied to these enemies are sure to make you sweat out of every pore in your body.
Chases like these are sprinkled around the entirety of the game, which means you’ll always be on the edge of your seat, thinking that the next monstrosity is just around the corner, waiting to pounce on you. Sneaking around to make sure you’re not spotted, being chased through air vents, running from a hunter who’s going off with a shotgun at you, the game will always keep you on your toes, with nary a semblance of quiet.
That’s not to say there aren’t any peaceful moments at all. You’ll have plenty of time to gush at how adorable the two characters are, helping each other out, looking out for each other, and running around holding hands. This shines the most when you’re trying to solve puzzles, which are intricately woven into the levels, drawing the players even more into the game. Considering the game doesn’t give you hints outright, you’d be wise to pay close attention to the environment. The puzzles aren’t inherently too difficult, but they’ll surely make you take a step back and think about the best possible solution. And when pushed into a corner where combat becomes a necessity, the game will provide you with the necessary tools. Combat is pretty simple, there aren’t any slick tricks involved, but the timing and animations are solid and do make you feel the weight of your swings.
We could ramble on and on about the mysteries and macabre of Little Nightmares II, but a game like this is better experienced than explained. We can’t really do justice to the game by telling you how it feels to run into the Thin Man, or what a doozy the final boss is. So, we’ll leave you with a few pearls of wisdom. One, play the game, just do it. Two, use headphones, because the music and sound design are simply outstanding. Three, collect all the ghosts/glitched children. Trust us, it’s going to be worth it.