Almost four years on from the release of Little Nightmares, Tarsier Studios aims to tell yet another gruesome tale. Leaving behind The Maw from the original, Little Nightmares II puts the player in control of Mono, a young child attempting to escape the dilapidated Pale City with the assistance of the returning, but now unplayable original protagonist, Six.
Little Nightmares II improves on a lot from the original, maintaining a similar aesthetic and keeping the 2.5D environment. Grotesque visuals remain a centrepiece, but the further you delve into the Pale City, the more deranged the world of Little Nightmares II becomes. Every element of horror, from art to audio, has been pushed to be as twisted as possible. Forcing discomforting tension on the player harder than the original ever did. Little Nightmares II offered more heart-stopping moments of dread then I ever would have expected to experience. Tarsier Studios didn’t just rely on their old tricks, as new gameplay elements, in addition to a longer narrative, helped thrust Little Nightmares II into the company of some of horror's most esteemed titles.
New protagonist Mono is the first clear change, alongside original protagonist Six, who acts as a companion throughout the game's journey. Mono feels a lot tighter to control, when compared to the first game. Running across thin planks and climbing cabinets all feel a lot more crisp. Controlling well in those tense encounters help circumvent the frustration I would often feel in the first game. From a gameplay perspective, Six plays a relatively minor role. They’re usually reduced to helping you push heavy items, or to give you a boost over a high wall, aiding you get to the other side. Combat is the biggest new addition to the game, allowing Mono to wield weapons when the time is right. Precise timing is required when using the weighty weapons, however they do feel good to swing - especially when making contact. It’s a satisfying system that's used sparingly to great effect.
Body horror is again pivotal to the discomforting atmosphere in Little Nightmares II. The oversized terrors the player is forced to confront are more fiendish than ever before. Without giving too much away, the attention to detail into how the limbs manipulate themselves to terrorise the player is astounding. Characters are created in a way that prevents the game ever feeling truly safe. With the introduction of the Pale City, areas throughout the game range from expansive to claustrophobic. Despite this, fantastic enemy design leaves the player feeling pinned in, even in the more expansive areas of the game. Taking place inside a hospital, the games third chapter is the series’ crowning moment to this point. Excellent lighting, combined with deep rooms that seem to go on forever, has you clenching the controller with dread.
That sense of dread is all tied together with yet more outstanding audio production. Audio design was my personal highlight of the original and it remains as important as ever throughout the sequel. It’s the tiny details that really add to the quality. Mono dragging heavy weapons across the floor is made more impactful as you hear the tone change as it bounces off all the surface bumps. The heavy breathing of enemies as you hide under floorboards or in a vent make those moments of tension that almost push you over the edge. Even the most basic things, such as hearing the audio between two rooms continue but become muffled.
It all adds into the mirage that you’re going from room to room and those bad things are still there. Exiting one place, doesn’t mean the entities within that place now cease to exist. Allowing everything to continue existing eliminates the players ability to read when to expect certain characters to make a sudden reappearance.
The combination of gameplay, visuals and audio come together to create an atmosphere that drowns you with dread. From movement to the sound they make, Mono feels like a pathetic insect fighting to survive in Little Nightmares II’s world of giants. It’s a testament to the games design that you find yourself expecting trouble in the most open, well lit environments. At no point does the game feel welcoming, because you aren’t welcome. There’s no respite, no comic relief or characters to make you feel safe. It’s a tale of two children who, with no true comprehension of their surroundings, are fighting to survive against all the odds.
Survival is a key element to the game's narrative too. Upon their first meeting, Mono and Six are clearly uneasy with one another, but quickly come to the realisation that two is better than one in this dangerous world. Our protagonists have no desire to wait around and figure everything out, so the world of Little Nightmares II remains up to fans to generate their theories. Storywise, the game truly kicks into gear come the end of its third chapter. The build towards, and the eventual fight with the games final boss, is a rollercoaster of not just fear, but heartbreak too. Culminating in a gut-punching finale, the game's ending will have fans of the game discussing the outcome, as they await answers in a seemingly inevitable third game. Wherever the direction of the series narrative goes from this point, it will likely be followed with great intrigue for big fans of the original.
Little Nightmares II’s story is longer than the original, likely taking most players between six to eight hours to complete. Given how tense the game can be at times, the length hits an ideal sweetspot. Tighter controls are also paired with better performance, although there were a few occasions where the game’s physics would fall out of sync. On one occasion, this prevented me from being able to advance through an area, but was rectified by restarting the game. A healthy checkpointing system thankfully meant minimal progress was lost. It’s not an awful issue, but I could certainly see some people becoming frustrated with it, especially if the timing is particularly poor.
Going into Little Nightmares II, I was unsure of what to expect in terms of the game's quality. The original was a great, albeit a short horror title and sometimes we see studios fail to reach similar heights when doubling or even trebling a game's length. Little Nightmares II far surpasses the bar set by its predecessor. Its reliance on atmosphere, plus its world building set it apart from modern horrors reliance on realistic gore and jump scares. A huge mystery remains around the games setting, but enough is done to keep you interested throughout, as well as going into any future sequels. For me, Little Nightmares II has set an unexpectedly high benchmark for all games that follow it throughout 2021.
Little Nightmares II (Reviewed on Windows)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
A fantastic sequel soaked in atmosphere and tension. Little Nightmares II surpasses its predecessor far beyond what anyone would have expected. An outstanding finale which stretches from the finale boss fight from the closing credits will have fans desperate for a third installment.