There are very few horror gaming experiences as effective as the original Little Nightmares.
Sure, the gameplay fundamentals are hardly unique or, at times, even especially well implemented, but the atmosphere and general creepiness that imbues every inch of the game’s deliciously unnerving world has rarely been matched by its survival-horror contemporaries.
So the announcement of a sequel at Gamescom 2019 was met with great joy and a small amount of trepidation as to what haunting scenarios the team at Tarsier Studios would dream up next.
Now nearly four years after its predecessor became a critical darling, Little Nightmares 2 is finally here and it’s every bit as chill-inducing as what came before it.
A Tale Left (Mostly) Untold
The nightmares are full-sized, we can assure you
Little Nightmares 2 is definitely a 'show, don’t tell' type of experience.
There’s not a single line of dialogue spoken throughout the whole game, instead, most of the game’s narrative is told through environmental storytelling and surreal cutscenes.
This time around you play as Mono, a boy wearing a paper bag on his head, and must work with Six, the protagonist of the first game, to navigate through The Pale City as you uncover the mysteries of the ginormous tower that hangs over the city controlling citizens through television screens.
While you’re definitely required to fill in a lot of the blanks yourself, and the central yarn takes a little while to get going, the ending is actually rather haunting and gives you plenty to think about - fan theorists are going to love digging into this one.
Hide and Seek
Each enemy is more gruesome and bizarre than the last
The basic gameplay of Little Nightmares 2 hasn’t changed from the first game, so expect a rather basic puzzle-platformer with some stealth and chase segments thrown in to keep things interesting.
The game isn’t technically a side scroller, however, you will primarily be moving from left to right across intricately detailed sections of The Pale City.
If you want a comparison point the Little Nightmares franchise most closely resembles games like Limbo or Inside. Similar to those titles, you’ll spend the roughly 5-hour campaign doing plenty of jumping, climbing and puzzle-solving.
The puzzles themselves are mostly straightforward, apart from one in the final chapter which is extremely poorly signposted and could well require the use of a guide for some players - the lack of an in-game hint system doesn’t help.
There are also a lot of instant death traps, which often lead to Mono being butchered in quite unsettling ways. While some players might take a morbid pleasure from watching each well-animated death sequence, the trial and error nature of these sections can be frustrating.
Often you’ll die not through a fault of your own but because the game puts an obstacle in your path that you couldn’t possibly have accounted for without succumbing to it at least once.
The stealth sections, which task you with playing a sort of demented game of 'hide and seek' against some truly frightening creatures are a real highlight. Mono is essentially powerless against these monsters so the tension is ratcheted up nicely as you try to creep through the level without being spotted.
You are occasionally empowered and given tools to help you deal with the threats you face, these include a TV remote (Which is more useful than it sounds) and a flashlight which is a key component in the game’s best level where you evade enemies that become paralysed when you shine your torch on them - it’s like playing out the iconic Doctor Who episode ‘Blink’.
Chase sections, where you run from the aforementioned creatures after being spotted, inject some zippy action into the mix but due to the fact you’re shepherded onto a fixed path, they start to feel rather samey after the first few.
Gameplay-wise Little Nightmares 2 doesn’t really bring anything new to the overcrowded puzzle-platformer genre, but as the game shines so bright in other areas it’s easy to forgive that the nuts and bolts of actually playing it are pretty routine.
A City of Nightmares
The city is impressively desolate, even in 2D
The real star of the show is The Pale City itself.
You may find yourself unable to progress in Little Nightmares 2 not because you’re stumped by a puzzle or unable to sneak past a deformed citizen of The Pale City, but rather because you’re so entranced by the game’s visuals that you have to pause to drink in your surroundings.
Little Nightmares 2 is not only a beautiful game to look at, but the sense of atmosphere throughout is genuinely unsettling, in the best possible way.
Like its predecessor, the game wonderfully contrasts childlike characters and objects with an oppressively bleak world and makes you feel extremely vulnerable as you explore it.
You’re frequently asked to move towards grotesque noises rather than running away from them, which is brilliantly effective in making you want to put down the controller and crawl under the nearest blanket.
The locations you explore range from a school (which is where you’ll encounter the game’s most fearsome enemy, the Teacher), a hospital and a hotel-like structure.
These are all pretty generic horror settings but the game’s unique art style and impeccable environment design help make them feel fresh and scary again.
It should go without saying for any horror game but 'lights off and headphones on' is the required way to experience Little Nightmares 2.
Go It Alone
Little Nightmares 2 feels a perfect fit for co-op, but there isn't any
Bizarrely Little Nightmares 2 is a strictly single-player experience, despite the fact you spend almost the entire game working alongside an AI-controlled companion.
Perhaps Tarsier Studios worried that playing with a buddy would blunt the game’s atmosphere but it feels like an odd choice whatever way you slice it.
Thankfully Six’s AI is pretty solid and we never experienced an occasion in which she didn’t do what she was supposed to, but a game with such a focus on two characters working together should really offer co-op as an option.
Little Nightmares 2 is simply more of the same, but that’s no bad thing. The core gameplay is still pretty basic but the environments you’ll explore and the horrifying creatures you’ll encounter will live with you long after you roll the credits.
Don’t be surprised if after a late-night play session you find yourself leaving your bedside light on or checking under your bed just to be sure that isn’t something lurking underneath!
Review copy provided by the publisherReviewed on PlayStation 5