The Little Nightmares series returns with yet another haunting instalment. This time we play as Mono who, with the help of Six, must reach the broadcast tower to stop the transmission which is turning a city’s population into screen-fixed zombies.
Little Nightmares II drops the claustrophobic and cramped setting of The Maw from the first game, opting for the much more open environments of a forest and a city. But this was perfect for opening up the series’ story and giving further glimpses of the eerie world our characters are living in. As always, the setting is hauntingly beautiful with its dark blue hues and bleak details. The fish-eye effect is great at enhancing that dream-like atmosphere and the apocalyptic themes in the city makes Mono and Six’s situation feel even more dire and helpless. There were plenty of moments in this gorgeously designed game where I would just stop for a moment to take in its glorious imagery before moving on.
Starting off in a forest, Mono comes across Six, the protagonist from the first game. The forest is littered with deadly traps, meaning that right from the start the player must be cautious in their every move. The presence of these traps becomes clearer when the player encounters the first boss, the Hunter, a masked man wielding a shotgun who relentlessly chases Mono and Six. Despite this exhilarating start to the game, I felt the Hunter wasn’t nearly as terrifying as any of the previous game’s bosses or the later bosses in Little Nightmares II. We’re offered a gruesome glimpse of a family seated at a table within the Hunter’s shack. But as you move closer you realize they are just dummies and their faces are made out of poorly stitched together skin. With more details into the Hunter’s grisly activities like this, he could have been a more memorable boss. Instead, the game focuses more on the action sequence of escaping him which sets up why Little Nightmares II wasn’t quite as good as its predecessor.
After this sequence, the duo escape to a city, the game’s main setting. I love exploring the streets of this abandoned world, intrigued by the mysterious disappearance of its inhabitants who seemed to have vanished on the spot and left only their clothes behind. Those who remain have become faceless ghosts of themselves, transfixed by television screens, even to the point of walking off roof if it means getting closer to one. The city held many dark details about what state the world was possibly in before whatever apocalyptic event has happened. From clothes hanging from the ceiling where a body once was, to the extreme mass of televisions littering the streets and apartments; this small glimpse into the backstory of Little Nightmares made me itch for more and I only wish we had been given more.
As you navigate around the city you’ll enter various buildings, including a school governed by a teacher who can elongate her neck like a snake when catching you sneaking around her. The school is overrun by children made out of ceramic who act like uncontrolled animals with their horrible screaming as they run about the place. Like the Hunter’s territory, they have laid out their own traps which Mono must be careful of whilst moving through the school. In this segment, the new attack function comes into play much more frequently to crack open the heads of these little monsters.
Despite how satisfying it is to get your own back on these brats, this section is another example of how Little Nightmares II’s focus on action takes away the same intense atmosphere the first game had with its stealth-oriented gameplay. Although the weapons you pick up are much too big for Mono to swing about easily, being able to attack things reduces that fear of being a helpless child in a nightmare that the first game captured so well.
Little Nightmares replicates the feeling of running from terrible monsters in a bad dream so well that even the clunky controls with their infuriatingly slow reactions remind me of the way you awkwardly tumble or feel incredibly weighted when running away from something in a nightmare. The game’s 2.5D camera and clunky controls just don’t suit action sequences at all. Due to the fixed camera, the player has awful spatial awareness when exploring a room. In the first game, this especially made it hard for the platforming sections as jumping from one place to another was really difficult when it was so hard to judge distances. Along with this, I was frequently falling off ledges when walking across planks of wood as it was hard to tell where the edge actually was. Rather than fixing this problem in the sequel, Tarsier Studios have just added more functions and sequences which don’t work with this game’s mechanics. The fight scenes are infuriating when you’re trying to hit an enemy and Mono keeps missing because you can’t tell how far away the enemy is. This was especially evident in the final boss of the game which repeatedly expected you to be able to move faster than the game would let you and have precise aim when the camera style wasn’t intended for that.
Because the school section features attack sequences the most in the game, it was so frustrating to complete. At one point I was stuck on just one section for about 20 minutes when it should have only taken two. At this part, you take out two clay-headed kids in the hallway before one jumps out from a locker. You take him out just in time to hit the one running up behind you. Or so this would happen if the controls weren’t so awkward. Instead, I spent the first 5 minutes trying to hit the bugger jumping out of the locker, and then a further 5 wondering why my blows were stopping mid attack until I realised the game’s invisible wall stops the player from hitting things when you’re standing near it. On top of this, the school features traps which rely on you dying in order to avoid them. Some of them are completely impossible to dodge unless they’ve killed you already and you know they’re coming, which further increases the frustration of this level.
Despite this, the Teacher is the most frightening boss in the game. Her shrieks as she slams her ruler down onto the desk as you’re sneaking around the class room are terrifying, as is her ability to stretch out her neck when trying to eat you. I only wish we had seen more from this boss and less of the clay-headed brats as this would have improved the level tremendously.
The next level is a hospital where people who hate their own bodies can go to have them ‘fixed’ by the Doctor. He’s a perfectionist who intends to replace the body parts they don’t like with mannequin parts. This level was so brilliant and was the epitome of creepiness. The Doctor is a disgusting being who crawls across the ceiling, rummaging through cabinets for parts to fix his clients up with. Mono and Six must evade him whilst moving across the room, being careful not to get caught as he is a lot faster than he looks. However, the Doctor is not the only enemy residing in the hospital. The mannequins are alive. When you’re not frantically trying to kill a hand that is scuttling towards you like a facehugger, you’re avoiding the mannequin bodies which will move closer towards you as you turn away. The hospital was perfect in its enemies, setting and the balance between stealth and attack elements.
Without spoiling too much about the end events of the game, the final level features Mono facing off against the Thin Man – a mysterious being who resides within the television and seems to be in control of the broadcasting. The Thin Man doesn’t have any special abilities other than general creepiness and his resemblance to SlenderMan. But he’s still a frightening boss as he draws nearer to Mono in the chase sequences. Despite this, the chase scenes are just as frustrating as the trap parts due to how narrow the timing is. Often times if you stumble slightly on a wall or debris, you know you’re going to get caught as you have to complete the chase perfectly in order to get away in time. This means when you do make a mistake, you know the rest of the chase is useless as you’re not going to make it. This again further pushed that Little Nightmares II can be very unfair on the player in how it encourages death in order to win.
I felt that, although the player primarily controls Mono whilst Six acts as an AI companion, it still feels like Six is the main protagonist of this series as even this instalment mainly focuses on her development. At first we’re dragging her from place to place by her hand, but as the game progresses she becomes increasingly independent until it is us following her story. Mono and Six’s interactions are really cute, an offer some warmth to what is otherwise a pretty horrifying game. Although Six doesn’t actually aid the player in puzzle solving other than occasionally offering a leg up onto a tall table, she does help when it comes to knowing where to go. Being able to see where Six is standing or whether she follows the player into certain rooms is a major heads-up when working out whether you’re going in the wrong direction or not. Despite this, Six’s AI can become a nuisance at times as her tendency to pick up items that you need to solve a puzzle (and refusing to drop them unless you trick her into helping you out with something) becomes pretty annoying and, on some occasions, meant I had to restart my save to progress in the game.
Despite its flaws, Little Nightmares II was extremely enjoyable. But its glitches, frustrating controls and focus on action rather than stealth meant it just wasn’t as good as Little Nightmares. On top of this, Little Nightmares II takes roughly four hours to complete which is two hours shorter than the previous game. This was hugely disappointing as the first game was a perfect length and Little Nightmares II had taken more on board in terms of developing the story of what’s happened in the outside world and a much broader setting which could have opened up countless opportunities for exploration. Because of this, four hours simply wasn’t enough. Nevertheless, Little Nightmares II was a pleasure to play with its fascinating storyline, brilliant character development and great level design and puzzles which makes it a must-play. Because of this, I still recommend Little Nightmares II.