Little Nightmares II Review – Big Scares Too
Developed by Tarsier Studios
Published by Bandai Namco
Available on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch
Before Little Nightmares II showed up, I really hadn’t played the original game at all. By chance I grabbed a copy recently, but this meant playing through both games. I am super glad I did. While I always suspected the series, and especially Little Nightmares II would be good, I wasn’t really prepared for just how good. This is a very early contender for not just the best horror game of the year, but probably one of the best games of the year period.
The game puts you in the role of Mono, a young boy who wakes up in the middle of the woods in front of a mysterious TV set. It isn’t long before he runs across, and saves, Six, the raincoat-clad girl from the original game. The two of them end up in a mysterious city and need to find someway out before they fall victim to one of the many monsters that’s wandering around. Much like the first game there’s no dialogue or text, with the game instead focusing entirely on visual storytelling.
Of course, how much you get out of Little Nightmares II is going to matter how much you enjoy this. Much like how the first game had strong themes of excess, this time around there’s themes of escapism. Characters will battle with TV-obsessed zombie-like people, a monstrous indoctrinating teacher, a man obsessed with making wooden dummies, and more. While there’s certainly a lot of story here, it could be easy to miss it considering the way the plot is doled out. If you’re not looking for visual story telling then the game probably comes off more like a bunch of really cool only vaguely connected horror scenes. Which is also fine.
But honestly, this feels like it’s underselling just how into the story I was. I described the original game to a friend as “the most times I’ve ever said ‘holy shit’ during a game.” Little Nightmares II has blown that away. With no words and no text, I have felt more attached to Mono and Six than I had for actual voiced protagonists. Nathan Drake? Spider-Man? Kratos? My feelings for them pale in comparison a pair of mute children who have been put into a terrifying situation. Before things were over I found myself completely terrified, joyful, upset, and more at these situations. I was under my desk, distraught, in tears, over the finale. Storytelling like this can have a massive impact, and this is all enhanced by the gameplay.
Taking place over five chapters, each of which deal with a different threat, you’ll spend something like 6 or 7 hours as Mono. Before the end of the game you’ll be hiding from shotgun-armed hunters, running from the endless neck and smiling face of a teacher, doing combat with porcelain children, solving environmental puzzles, and more. There’s a whole lot of different situations in the game, and you don’t have many ways to interact with the world. Mono can run and jump, sometimes has a flashlight, and grab things in the environment to either move around or climb. It’s all pretty simple enough.
However, there’s just no easy way to write about how much of an extremely tense nightmare the game can quickly turn into. From the first few minutes you know something is horribly wrong, as Mono navigates a trap-filled wood before stumbling on a cabin. Here he meets Six, and the two quickly run into the Hunter. Wearing a bag over his head like a slasher movie character and carrying around a giant shotgun, this made for an extremely intense first level. Before it was over Mono and Six had to dive into rabbit holes, take cover behind rocks, swim underwater to avoid being seen, and disarm traps. It ended with the first of many sequences that I am unwilling to spoil, but excited for people to get to.
These are the moments that really made me love the characters. I began to get legitimately scared for them every time a new chase happened, because I was actually rooting for them. Sure, if I did, which I did a lot because Little Nightmares II can be rather unforgiving, they’d just respawn. That doesn’t take away that I still got worried that maybe this time Mono or Six may not make it out of this situation alive.
I’ve mentioned Six a few times now, and that’s one of the new elements to the game. Six will follow Mono around for much of it. Not too unlike PlayStation 2 classic Ico, you can hold Six’s hand and direct her around. However, she operates just fine on her own so you don’t need to babysit her. Six will sometimes give Mono pointers to puzzles, help out by carrying important items if you need more than one, and even carrying out little tasks that I didn’t expect. She’s a fun addition, and I really loved having her around.
There’s another major addition to Little Nightmares II and that’s combat. To keep with the theme of the game it’s slow, brutal, and terrifying. Mono can pick up a few items around the world and swing them at others. The end result is that Mono smashes a porcelain child’s head in with a sledgehammer. I came to question why I liked to turn to combat, with the scenes just as horrifying as any threat that I was running away from. At times it felt like I was becoming the monsters themselves.
Outside of this, however, there’s not that much different in Little Nightmares II that the first game had. Generally: if you liked the first game you’ll like this one, and if you didn’t then you won’t. The flaws from the original are still here, which means that the controls are sometimes wonky and you don’t always go exactly where you think you’re going. It can be frustrating during some of the more precision platforming segments, but it’s never too bad at least. Thankfully, that’s about the biggest problem I had with the game.
Honestly, I can’t state enough how much Little Nightmares II really got me. It’s not just that the game is terrifying, which it very much is. It’s a game that loves horror aesthetics in every way, shape, and form, and deserves to be on plenty of people’s radars for that alone. It’s also that Little Nightmares II manages to achieve one of the biggest, most important, goals of video games. It weaves together narrative and gameplay into one shockingly amazing whole. I still can’t believe just how good the game was, and all I hope is that I get to see more from both the series and Tarsier as a whole. I love the game deeply.