Are you afraid of the dark? Children everywhere will most likely answer in the affirmative, but there’s an innate fear of what lurks in the shadows of everyday life and Little Nightmares II is here to seize upon that. I know plenty of gamers out there that aren’t fans of horror games and stay away from mainstays like Resident Evil because it’s just too gory and downright scary. Bandai Namco has found a sort of middle ground with this series — so thick with creepiness that you could slice a knife through it, but not so focused on the blood and gore that permeates so many other games these days. Indeed, it earns itself that Teen rating with some intense encounters and just enough disturbing imagery that both horror fans and those that typically avoid the genre can enjoy the ride.
Having never played Little Nightmares, this review of the sequel won’t answer the questions of what’s been improved and is it better than the first. Having said that, I’m comfortable in saying that Little Nightmares II is a great jumping in point and doesn’t require you to have played the original to enjoy it. Those of you that have will be glad to see the return of the original game’s protagonist, Six, although this time she’s a non-playable character that you team up with to journey through the surreal and horrific landscapes together. You play as Mono, a young boy trapped in a disturbing world where you must help him find a way out of the madness. Both of the characters are children, but they are tiny compared to the surroundings, with most door knobs out of reach and adults towering the entire screen. These adults are often the things of nightmares because they’ll stop at nothing to prevent you from escaping.
Gameplay is a mix of exploration, platforming, puzzle solving, and combat. According to the press materials I received alongside the game, picking up and using weapons is new to the sequel. Items like a hammer or a pipe will help you take out smaller enemies. Wielding them takes some major getting used to, however, because they’re larger than the character himself and it takes precise timing from when you press the action button to when he swings and attacks. Even in the later levels of the game I was struggling to get the timing down, and it can be frustrating having to redo sequences over and over again. Thankfully the checkpoint system is generally forgiving so the chances of you getting stuck in one spot for too long is pretty low, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying. I can’t help but feel that perhaps leaving combat out would have been the better gameplay decision, but it’s not the focus of the game and so it didn’t become a huge detriment in the long run.
The real fun of the game is exploring the various environments and solving the puzzles. The game does a very good job of making you feel smart when you figure out what to do next. There are small visual hints from time to time, especially from you companion character, Six. Many times she’ll run to a specific spot on the screen and signal that there’s something that needs to be done in that area. She can help you out by boosting you up to reach higher platforms and sometimes she can pick up an item and give a clue as to what to do next. For the most part she’s a great addition to the story and makes you feel responsible for her safety. It sort of reminded me of the PS2 classic, ICO, where you can call her and even hold her hand. This sort of connection gives a small glimmer of hope in a world that’s bleak and dreary.
Although it might look like a straight up side-scrolling 2D platformer from screens and even some of the videos, there’s a great depth to each level. You can travel in and out of the screen, and doing so might yield a few secrets here and there. Scattered about are new hats for your main character to wear, which really doesn’t do anything other than give you a costume change. There are also shadowy figures that resemble static from a TV station that’s gone off the air, and if you manage to find all of them perhaps something cool will happen? Suffice to say, that you can take your time exploring the vistas if you like, and for the first half of the game I did that, but there’s a lot of nothing to find in most of the areas, so I sort of main-pathed my way through the latter half.
Graphically the game is very dark and dreadful, but in a good way! You won’t find much color here, mostly brown and gray, but the lighting is exquisitely placed to create dimly lit environments with shadows placed in just the right places. The graphic designers need to be given a ton of credit for creating a world that is absolutely creepy from beginning to end. There are some truly magnificent backdrops as you progress and one of my favorites is the second area, which takes place in a skyscraper filled city. The way the tall buildings sort of bend over near the top looks like something Tim Burton would have come up with. Then there are the dreadful mannequins, with their body parts strewn about, hanging from the ceilings and placed in ominous positions. I was holding my breath walking through these parts of the game, just waiting to be grabbed. Perhaps that’s what this game excels at the most — the anticipation of something dreadful happening is almost worse than the actual event.
The enemies are equally creepy, especially the daunting adult characters. The first stage you’ll come across a hunter in his shed ripping apart some animal with his tools. Try as you might to sneak past him, he’ll eventually discover you’re trying to escape his house and he’ll give chase. The sense of fear and the rush of adrenaline will kick in as you must run as fast as your little legs will carry you to hide behind cover while he blasts at you with his shotgun. The chase sequences throughout the game are quite intense and will definitely get your palms sweating. The animations of all of the enemies is exquisite. In one scene the hunter fires his gun and as he takes the time to reload you have to scurry up a wall and while my eyes wanted to appreciate all of the attention to detail of his animations, I had to focus on getting the hell out of there as fast as I could. One of the creepiest enemies is also early in the game, and it’s the teacher. Trust me, you don’t want to get on her bad side, especially since any noises she hears will result in her turning her head and, well I don’t want to spoil the horrific surprise, but trust me it’s not something you want to endure!
Adding to the immersive atmosphere is the game’s soundtrack. Unlike some games where there’s constantly music playing in the background, Little Nightmares II is fine with some scenes remaining quiet. There are moments of calm and reassuring tunes playing when you’ve made it to safety, but when you’re being hunted and you have to stealth your way through an area, the game will ramp up the musical score and the heartbeat will be felt in the controller. If you make a wrong move the music will swell and you’ll have mere moments to find a way to either escape, hide, or suffer the consequences. The soundtrack hits all the right notes at exactly the right time, and it helps sell the experience.
Where the game falters a bit, and I hinted at it earlier with the combat, is in the gameplay department. Unlike precision platformers like Celeste, Little Nightmares II feels a bit sluggish in many of the things you do. In some regards it reminds me of the slightly sloppy controls found in the Little Big Planet games. Because of the 3D environments it can be difficult at times to perfectly line up your jumping from one platform to the next, resulting in needless deaths. Some of the puzzles are made slightly more difficult because the controls aren’t as precise as they should be. I understand the feeling the developers were going for — after all you’re a small kid who is carrying these massive items and they wanted everything to feel heavy and slow and plodding. Well, they delivered that in spades, but who wants to play an entire game that’s heavy, slow, and plodding? Luckily the game does the one thing it needs to do. It makes you care about the protagonists enough to keep playing and see what’s next, despite some of the control issues. Intentionally making the controls feel heavy and slow does give a bit of suspense every time you’re trying to make what looks like an impossible jump, so in that sense it’s a success. But when you die over and over again in a sequence that’s clearly a control issue and through no fault of your own, then patience begins to wear thin.
Despite some small quibbles with the gameplay, Little Nightmares II is an exciting romp through a disturbing world filled with creepy imagery and enemies that you’re sure to remember for a long time to come. There’s plenty to like here, especially for those who enjoy horror games. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre, this just be the game to test the waters with because of the lack of bloody gore. There are some disturbing parts, but nothing too crazy and with the emphasis on puzzle solving, sneaking around, and the occasional chase sequence there’s a little something for everybody.
Little Nightmares II Review
- Graphics - 8.5/108.5/10
- Sound - 8/108/10
- Gameplay - 6/106/10
- Lasting Appeal - 7.5/107.5/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Little Nightmares II absolutely nails the dreary and hopeless atmosphere thanks to its detailed graphics and ominous musical score. Even though there’s no narration or story told through text, the game somehow manages to make you care about the main characters and want to help them escape to a better life. Unenjoyable combat and sloppy controls hold the game back from becoming what it could have been, but there’s plenty here to like to give it a hearty recommendation.