‘LITTLE NIGHTMARES II’: GAME REVIEW
Horror games aren’t for everyone, with heart-racing tension and the torturous wait for the next jump scare causing many of us to avoid the genre altogether, so the satisfaction when Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares II not only manages to stay clear of cheap scare tactics but also ensure a sense of unease that captivates its audience until the very end is palpable.
Little Nightmares II is a gorgeously creepy puzzle-platformer that throws you into a grotesque world with a story that keeps you thinking long after the credits roll. Like the original before it, the sequel puts you in the role of a small child traversing an oversized city where the inhabitants are treacherous and the Thin Man looms among the many monochromatic TV sets dispersed throughout.
Every room you enter, whether it’s the basement of a deep forest shack or the overstuffed library in a school filled with inhuman ceramic students, is visually striking. Each area is unique, as are the terrifying humanoid creatures that populate the world. As long as you can avoid their gaze, or find success in a quick game of cat-and-mouse, you’ll survive. It’s a beautiful combination of being drawn in by the intricacies of each crumbling building while fearing what abhorrent encounter waits around the next corner.
The game does not practice the brand of horror where you shriek after something ungodly busts down from the ceiling, however. Instead, it utilizes a constant sense of unease that you’ll run into yet another unsettling scene. The spider-like doctor that crawls along the ceiling and the disgusting teacher whose neck extends at will are just a few standouts from the grotesque gallery of characters you’ll have the displeasure of meeting.
In the game’s calmer moments, areas like the rainy streets of the deteriorating city or the dim empty dorm room still offer an ominous tone while providing good opportunities for some puzzle solving. While some of the challenges are fairly straightforward and feel more like platforming tests, others force you to think a level higher — literally. Multi-room puzzles like the ones that require you to plug a battery into power outlets in a specific order often give a rewarding feeling once completed. Certain puzzles also make use of lighting and sound, a way to keep things interesting and unpredictable.
One slightly aggravating game design choice, however, is that taking a death often pushes you far back to a checkpoint, forcing you to redo a puzzle in a repetitive manner. This checkpoint frustration is especially noticeable in chase sequences where the enemy follows a predetermined path. You’ll find yourself repeating the chase multiple times just to see where the full path of the enemy leads.
With the inclusion of Six, the main protagonist of the first game, a companion tags along and adds a new layer of puzzle solving that proves creative. Allowing one character to control a different lever or take on a needed task in another room only helps create a more complex and finer puzzle system. Six never feels too in the way and she doesn’t spoil anything by revealing important locations or items. Pairing her up with Mono, the sequel’s player character, provides a great deal of delightful moments and may help escape more than a few falls into a deadly pit. There’s even a button to hold hands!
This addition does raise an important question, though: Why doesn’t Little Nightmares II have a co-op mode? Unfortunately, Six isn’t by your side all the time and there are often sections where you’ll step into several rooms on your own while Six waits without. That, along with a few story-related segments, make not including co-op the better option.
Controls in Little Nightmares II receive a noticeable bump from their predecessor, where maneuvering your way over precarious terrain feels satisfyingly tighter. Running and grabbing objects all feel natural, though it was a tad awkward trying to run and move Mono’s flashlight around since both need the use of the right thumb. Thankfully that’s only needed for a short segment. And while this will likely get patched, I did find myself in two situations where an action required to complete a puzzle did not work until after I died or restarted the checkpoint.
Another welcome addition is the ability to pick up items and use them as weapons. Tools like lead pipes and axes are used to break down barriers, but they can also be utilized to take out smaller enemies. Slamming the weapon down can feel a bit off, but as the game shows, Mono isn’t exactly built to carry these large objects, so the clumsy feeling fits.
Clocking in at a little over five hours, roughly double that of the first game, Little Nightmares II is a more-than-welcome return to the menacing world Tarsier Studios has crafted. It’s incredible to see the developer’s skill at dreaming up new ways to make us uncomfortable and ghoulish humanoid forms which never fail to impress. Yes, it’s a horror game, but that unease is based more on discomfort than shock and it would be quite the nightmare to overlook this one.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version running on a PlayStation 5. A next-gen update is planned for 2021.
Photo courtesy of Bandai Namco