Little Nightmares II might not be the traditional kind of horror game the genre’s aficionados are accustomed to, but it’s genuinely disturbing throughout and belongs in the category every bit as much as anything else that first comes to mind. It’s eerie in a disarming sort of way with its soft and slow gameplay, and has a certain sticking power to it that’ll leave people remembering haunting images and with many more questions at the credits than they had at the start of the game.
I never played the first Little Nightmares, but after playing through the sequel and having seen plenty of the original, I think I might prefer it that way. The puzzle-platformer nature of Little Nightmares II with its unique mastery of the grotesque feels like something that’s best experienced the first time, so I’m happy to experience the evolved and refined product first and go back to the original later should the desire arise (and it likely will).
Take the Teacher, for example, a recurring enemy in Little Nightmares II who’s one of the first boss-type creatures players come across. Everything up until that point had certainly been disturbing enough, but seeing the signature stretchiness of Little Nightmares II’s inhabitants in person for the first time is enough to make you hold your breath and think on the fly while you try to adapt to these broken laws of anatomy. That feeling’s explored in different ways throughout Little Nightmares II, but your first encounter is a special one.
Running and hiding is essentially the key to most solutions in Little Nightmares II, but Tarsier Studios’ formula has evolved to arm players with a set of light combat mechanics. Weapons are too large and unwieldy to be used effectively, but that only adds to the sense of desperation in the protagonist Mono’s quest. The weighty pipes, axes, and other weaponry players employ have to be timed perfectly to be most effective, which is easier said than done with ghoulish enemies moving much quicker than Mono in the heat of battle.
The implementation of the combat feels a bit clunky at times when weapons bounce off walls because of odd angles, but once you get the hang of it, it’s all the more satisfying to pummel a faceless assailant. Checkpoints are forgiving enough to allow players to familiarize themselves with the combat system without abandoning too much progress as well.
Though the combat evolution is appreciated, it in no way assuages the uncomfortable feeling that permeates Little Nightmares II. Victories in battle don’t feel like victories as much as they feel like survival, a superb way to integrate that sort of feature into a horror game. You feel after every battle as if you’ve just barely won with one second or two able to make all the difference, an effect that keeps things taut throughout.
But combat is only one part of Little Nightmares II, and it wouldn’t be what it is without its many puzzles. Some of them require a bit of finesse to time everything just so in order to proceed while others are frustratingly simple to the point of having their answers easily overlooked. There was more than one occasion during my Little Nightmares II playthrough where I stepped away from the game for a break after being stumped on a puzzle only to immediately see its solution when returning. That’s an unfortunate side effect of the constant tension of Little Nightmares II which might call for those occasional breaks to get a reset of sorts, but the longer – though still relatively short – length of the game at around 7-10 hours or so feels optimal for that sort of experience.
Little Nightmares 2 has an impeccable way of building on itself as well. Six, the protagonist from the first game who joins Mono’s plight as an AI-controlled character in the sequel, often serves as your guide throughout the game. The character offers silent suggestions at times that’ll be useful to pay attention to should you find yourself on your own. Skills learned in Little Nightmares 2 are seldom learned without reason.
One of the most notable effects of Little Nightmares II is its sticking power after the credits roll. It never gave me little nightmares of my own, but the game’s focus on a minimal roster of horrors has an effective way of drilling images of those enemies into your mind. The Teacher and all the other denizens of Little Nightmares II’sworld always have one defining feature about them that lingers after each encounter, and even when you’re rid of them and have moved onto the next segment, there’s always a sneaking suspicion they’ll show up again.
And then there’s the twisty narrative of the Little Nightmares universe, a subject the first game’s players were already deeply engrossed in. I’d hopped into forums about fan theories, explanations, and implications of different messages from the first game before the sequel’s credits had even finished rolling, and I suspect many others will do the same. Though my time playing Little Nightmares II may have come to an end, consider me hooked and eager to see what Tarsier Studios and the Little Nightmares detectives have to say about the franchise in the future.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Little Nightmares II is scheduled to release on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC platforms on February 11th with PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S versions coming later in the year. The game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5 via backward compatibility with a PS4 code provided by the publisher.