Little Nightmares lived up to its namesake as a brief, but memorable, adventure into a twisted and oppressive world. It proved popular enough with its audience to spinoff into further DLC, comics, and even a prospective TV series, and now finally we have a sequel with Little Nightmares II, which aims to greatly expand the macabre world of the series, with new horrific environments, grotesque characters and many, many ways to die.
Yellow-raincoated little girl Six is not under our direct control this time, as instead we’re given a new character, a shy little boy known as Mono, who seems to prefer keeping his head hidden in paper bags or hats. Mono and Six meet each other early on, and from that point on form a tenuous trust and partnership, as they escape the various forces pursuing them. There’s a much larger scope than the first game, as the pair’s journey sees them flee from danger to danger, across several locations, from a forest escaping a deranged hunter, to a school with a snake-necked teacher that is literally emptying her students’ skulls, to an enormous tower sending out an ominous signal that might be responsible for everything.
Opening up the world this much really allows the developers to create some truly terrifying scenarios that touch on a variety of fears. It wears some of its influences on its sleeve – there’s a hospital that owes a lot to the Silent Hill movies – but every location is full of finely crafted creativity, focused solely on building an atmosphere of pure dread. As small, innocent clues about the true nature of your situation slowly build up to horrific answers, Little Nightmares II repeats the formula a handful of times but still manages to feel frighteningly fresh. The story, told through environments and action rather than dialogue and exposition, feels clear and engaging, and although the ending is not entirely unexpected, it is vague enough to I’m sure prompt some pretty heavy discussion.
As Mono and Six explore each area, puzzles arise that often require careful observation of the environment, dragging boxes around, flipping switches, or using each other to boost up to hard-to-reach locations. Mono has the ability to interact with televisions which litter the game’s landscape in various ways, most notably using them as ways to portals to navigate the environment, which opens up some pretty tricky puzzles. There’s also more to collect this time around, from distorted fragments of lost children to wearable hats for Mono to show off in-game, giving a bit more meaning to exploration.
When the giant-sized adult antagonists are around, stealth and crouching behind cover are once again vital, but this time around Mono is able to defend himself to a degree. In certain sequences, when faced with enemies about his size, Mono can find giant clubs, axes or pipes to actually engage in combat, although everything is far too large and heavy for him to wield effectively. Success in combat is much more down to timing than anything else, taking into account the time it’ll take Mono to lift his weapon and make contact. More intense sequences throw way more at you than you think you can handle, like rooms full of writhing mannequins that move only in darkness, and you with only a single small flashlight to aid you. Trial-and-error is a big factor in Little Nightmares II, as you’ll be constantly applying lessons learned from your last death to get just a little bit further on your next run, partially assisted with thankfully forgiving checkpoints.
However, you might find yourself dying a little more often than feels fair, as the clumsy controls from the first game are still an issue here in the sequel. It could be argued that feeling somewhat out of control of your character adds to the intensity and helplessness of the game’s atmosphere, but it certainly can make it more frustrating. Sometimes, you’ll assume objects can’t be picked up because Mono failed to register them as points of interest on your first try. You’ll miss boost-jumps because Six occasionally won’t position herself underneath somewhere you can climb up. The game’s quasi-3D perspective can also trip you up at times as you try to gauge depth as best you can for certain jumps. I actually wonder if this is a game that would benefit from VR implementation to assist with that.
Overall, I do think Little Nightmares II is a much more well-realised experience than its predecessor. While the first game was singularly focused on one theme and location – that of ‘hunger’ on board the dining ship ‘The Maw’ – Little Nightmares II relishes in the opportunity to be more episodic and throw a lot more out there. The variety helps, as does the expanded cast of creeps and threats that Mono and Six must face together. While many of the cavalcade of deaths you’ll go through in order to navigate the Pale City feel fair, a fair amount will still frustrate due to controls which you still have to fight against, just as much as the baddies at times. Nevertheless, Little Nightmares II comes together in a truly memorable way, with an oppressive, pervading atmosphere that seeps into every facet of its design. It’ll give you the willies in ways you might not expect, and ways that are hard to forget.
-Larger, scarier and stranger than the original -Beautifully detailed, twisted environments and wonderfully creepy characters -More to explore and collect this time around as well
-Still clumsy controls complicate both platforming and combat