When I first previewed Little Nightmares II earlier this year, I said that the game made me “contort in my chair like I was being sealed in a vacuum bag,” which does a lot to illustrate the absolute terror this sinister sequel can instil in its players. If you missed the 2017 original, Little Nightmares is an indie game series where you play as a tiny protagonist in a grim dark world.
The 2021 sequel follows the toddling duo Mono and Six as they amble over platforms and solve puzzles in a deeply oppressive world. The landscape of Little Nightmares II is haunted by the most depraved dreams of the human psyche — you’ll tiptoe through hunting shacks stocked with human taxidermy and seedy hospital floors busy with prosthetic homunculi. The main conceit of every level is that you have to escape from the distorted, forgotten humans that prowl and prey in these environments, dead set on eating the dynamic duo.
Welcome to Pale City
The controls are purposefully lumbering but consistently intuitive, riffing off of Playdead’s work on Limbo and Inside. You’ll push and pull heavy objects and really feel the weight of your character as you leap between areas and dash away from porcelain mobs. This works to drive the adrenaline into the stratosphere — it’s real ‘heart in your mouth’ stuff when an enemy chases you through dank vents and horrid classrooms, their body cracking and bending into nooks to reveal your fragile hiding place.
As you might expect then, there’s a really pleasing mastery of sound design shown in Little Nightmares II. Even in the most nonchalant of rooms you’ll shiver at the way a ball drops or a bottle smashes, alerting enemies to your presence. The murky colour grading and careful use of light sources tease out hidden hats and hideaways, rewarding those who dare to explore the game’s levels, which are all paced really well, leading to an often fateful encounter at their crescendo. Just knowing that everything is going to go wrong eventually creates quite an overwhelming gloom, that players may fall either side of, depending on their disposition.
Bigger, better, faster, scarier
It’s not a very long game, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun while it lasts, and it certainly develops the playtime from the first entry in the series. Expect to spend a good seven to ten hours playing Little Nightmares II, depending on your playstyle. As for what it introduces rather than refines, I wasn’t convinced by the game’s introduction of combat mechanics, which definitely succeeded in making me feel helpless, but the tedious frustration of the mechanic started to wear on me, a few missions in.
Having an AI companion is a great addition though – it really doesn’t feel like one giant escort mission. I thoroughly cared for protecting Six and it added a nice tactical element to the puzzle-platforming and more dangerous scenes, where you have to account for their movements. To pick a few, some of my favourite puzzles involved lining up the signal on a TV to enter another world, or using loose objects on a table to distract an enemy as you scuttled through the room to safety.
Little Game of Horrors
The way the world of Little Nightmares has opened up to players in the sequel is also seriously impressive. The original game felt seriously claustrophobic and choking as you were trapped underwater, but its sequel dares to offer more open spaces within a connected city, without sacrificing the tension. The overarching plot is bleak but fun, as you encounter The Thin Man, a slender, put-together villain who is enthralling subjects into televisions, turning them into faceless beasts.
Overall, I was seriously impressed by Little Nightmares II. It’s a fantastically spooky horror game, but it feels accessible even to people who aren’t too keen on the genre, such as myself. The thrilling aspects of it are more atmospheric and creepy than direct and in your face. Outside of that, it’s a meaningful iteration on the brilliance of the original, and it’s just moreish enough that you could play it in a few sessions, making it a perfect pickup as we push through the Q1 games drought.