Developer: Tarsier Studios
Release Date: Feb. 11, 2021
Platforms: PlayStation 4 [Played], Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, Stadia
Little Nightmares II is a horror game that almost passes for cute. Following two very little children navigating a very large and scary world, the game is at its best during the quiet moments. Solving puzzles and exploring the strange world is engrossing, but is hampered by mostly frustrating combat and stealth sections.
Taking place prior to the events of the first Little Nightmares game, players control Mono, and are joined by Six, the protagonist of the original game. The game’s plot is fairly open to interpretation, as none of the characters speak, and no attempt is made to explain the situations the kids find themselves in. For much of the game, the kids seem to just stumble from one nightmare scenario to another. Mono and Six don’t talk, but are brought to life through incredible animation that injects personality into them. There’s a button to make the two hold hands while they walk around.
The world of Little Nightmares is dark and scary, but it’s also often beautiful. Much of the world is massive and empty, really driving home the solitude of Mono and Six, lost and surrounded by danger. The horror does not rely at all on gore or jump scares, but rather exists in the surrealism of the world, which is designed with a cartoonish feel.
The scariest elements of the game are in its major boss-like villains. Each of the game’s five chapters features one major character who drives the plot and each is suitably terrifying. Standouts include a school teacher who elongates her neck at least a dozen feet with the sound of cracking bones and the thin man, who exists in the static of old CRT televisions, flickering like a bad signal.
Exploration is where Little Nightmares II shines. It’s five chapters each feature fleshed out areas filled with puzzles and threats. The game’s puzzles are perfectly balanced, challenging enough to provide a sense of satisfaction, but not so difficult that they require a Google search. Some of these sections are representations of masterful and innovative game design. Examples include a section in the basement of an abandoned hospital, where Mono has to use his flashlight to stop broken mannequins from advancing in their stilted way, and a section where Mono uses a television remote to manipulate the TV addicted populace of a decaying city.
Little Nightmares II is excellent when it focuses on the quiet exploration and the innovative puzzles. Unfortunately, the game far too often dips into more rote stealth and combat sections. These are almost always exercises in trial and error that left me frustrated.
The combat is especially problematic, though not terribly frequent. The small characters move very slow while dragging a hammer or other weapon, and take time to swing and recover. Aiming these attacks feels inexact, and failing to strike your target almost guarantees being sent back to the last checkpoint, as Mono can’t take more than one hit. Difficulty ramps up pretty quickly with the introduction of more nimble enemies that can dodge attacks.
Stealth is slow and basic, hiding in the shadows until the scary monster turns its back, then moving to the next point of cover, very slowly. Getting caught means immediately being sent back to the checkpoint, and it takes just a little bit too long to get back into the action for another try. These sections are extremely common, especially in the game’s second and third chapters, which are also the longest.
Despite the uneven gameplay, and an absolute downer of an ending, Little Nightmares II is a unique take on a genre of horror that doesn’t get much spotlight. Its scares are based on inventive monsters and scenarios, not relying on easier methods of instilling fear in an audience. The story is ambiguous at best, but feels special and poignant, two children trying to find their way in a twisted world. I’m glad I played through it, but I’m not sure I’d ever want to do it again.