Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares 2 is, at its core, built around a single idea: dread. Every aspect of the game’s moment-to-moment action is calibrated to put a knot in your stomach and a film of clammy sweat on your palms. In other words, Little Nightmares 2 is a very effective horror game, and a worthy successor to the original.
Little Nightmares 2 starts with a similar set up to the original, with a few twists: you are a very small child in a very large world full of threatening, grotesque adults that tower over you, and you must navigate your way through their world without getting caught. For a change, you now play as Mono, a brand new diminutive protagonist, instead of the first game’s protagonist, the bright yellow raincoat-wearing Six. You do quickly meet Six though, and she accompanies you on your journey as you traverse an ominous forest, a school full of nightmarish porcelain children, a haunted hospital, and more.
The inclusion of teamwork is one of the game’s many new mechanics, and definitely the one that works out the best. Six is able to help move larger items and push away bigger obstacles, and as you move from room to room and try to figure out the latest environmental puzzle, Six will often give subtle clues as to where and what the solution is. There’s even a button to make Mono and Six hold hands, and a button to call out to your pal, both of which is adorable, and this game makes you appreciate every drop of non-horror you can find.
Another new mechanic is the introduction of combat, with Mono occasionally finding weapons like axes or hammers (which are always larger than him) to clumsily swing at enemies or destroy barriers. Level traversal has an increased focus on platforming this time around, as you’ll have to make more precise and careful jumps during some hectic chase sequences.
Whereas the first game was a claustrophobic journey through the chambers of a ship, Little Nightmares 2 is much more willing to explore the terrors of open spaces. The game often drops you in an open area without any visible obstacles, and while that may seem like a relief, when a threat can come from literally anywhere and you’re struggling to find something to hide under to escape your pursuers, you’ll wish you were in a cramped and cluttered room again — that is, until the next time you’re in one, and then you’ll dread whatever is waiting on the next screen.
Environmental puzzles are always clever and tricky without ever becoming totally maddening or baffling. What’s more, the puzzles themselves contribute to the game’s world building and the horrors of the places you’re passing through. One puzzle involves solving an unfinished chess game that has left at least one participant in literal shambles; a very early puzzle involves needing to find a handle to use a pulley system, finding the handle in the grip of a sleeping giant, and then slowly sneaking up to try and finesse it out of their grasp — only to accidentally pull their whole arm off. You solve the puzzle, but you also have the sudden, terrible realization that you’re not in the presence of a threat, but of a corpse — and whatever killed them is still around.
Little Nightmares 2’s constant undercurrent of terror wouldn’t be nearly as effective if it didn’t look and sound so sharp. Every environment is overflowing with detail to make them feel distinct from one another. The other characters of the game are each distinctly terrifying in their own right, with character designs that immediately telegraph each new threat’s specific danger and inhumanity. Scenes are lit with foreboding splashes of light, sickly greens and inhospitable browns, bleeding into oppressive shadows and gloomy blue tones. Mono’s faded green clothes always suitably stand out from the surroundings and contrast nicely with Six’s bright yellow coat so you always know where you are onscreen.
The game’s soundtrack is a similar exercise in effective contrasts, as vague ambient soundscapes during slow, tense exploration can explode into nerve-jangling scores during climactic chase sequences and set pieces at a moment’s notice, yet the transitions are never too jarring or choppy. This is definitely a game to play with headphones on, so you can really tune into the world around you. The music is dense, atmospheric and often atonal and discordant, but it’s also always compelling and immersive, even as it makes you sweat. In both sound and visuals, Little Nightmares 2 rarely goes for a straightforward jump scare, instead letting the game’s bad vibes build up until the levee breaks and a monster starts to prowl.
Little Nightmares 2 still has the same tilting, seasick camera it had in the first installment which pitches scenes to one side or another with an uncanny listlessness. Even though we’re no longer on a boat, the world itself has been knocked off its axis in some way. It’s a little touch, but details like this add a lot to the game’s consistent sense of unease.
The way that those bad vibes stack up is the real testament of Little Nightmares 2’s quality. Every time you solve the current puzzle or escape one room, there’s a momentary thrill of success — a thrill that is then dashed when you enter the next room, see the ominous shadow stretching from just offscreen, and realize you’re in a new unpredictable situation. The game builds dread in the moment-to-moment, as every new screen brings new surprises that you have to figure out. You don’t just have to wonder “what’s coming up at the end of this long dark hallway?” You also need to consider “what’s already in this room that I haven’t seen yet?” This consistent mounting tension, and the way that any triumph only succeeds in letting off steam for a moment or two, is absolutely thrilling to play.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good dread. There are some aspects of Little Nightmares 2 that don’t quite stick the landing. The new focus on tight platforming and combat both suffer from the game’s fixed camera, as often the perspective of the room you’re in makes it difficult to accurately judge distance between Mono and his target. Swinging weapons will come up short and risky jumps will land nowhere near where you meant to, with you having little idea as to what went wrong. Assessing depth is often tricky, and you’ll likely have to retry a number of encounters due to misjudging distances between two points.
While the environmental puzzles are challenging in a rewarding and fair way, some of the game’s stealth sequences seem more arbitrary. Your enemies seem to have varying levels of awareness of your movements. Sometimes they’ll be able to sense you through a solid barrier, and other times you’ll be able to walk right past them without a problem. The issue here is how both of these can happen in the exact same encounter. Enemy AI is occasionally inscrutable and you sometimes feel like your success will be based more on luck than skill. This became less of an issue for me as the game went on, though, as later-game levels have more concrete mechanics in their chase sequences. It’s just frustrating to encounter such a steep, and possibly random, difficulty curve in these early stealth sections.
None of this really detracts too long from the dread and thrill of finding what waits on the next screen, though. Little Nightmares 2 always has enough style and grim charm to keep you wanting to stick it out and find out what’s coming up next. And while it is a longer adventure than the first game, it never overstays its welcome and knows when it’s time to change up the setting, moving on to the next fright. A strong sequel that knows how to up the stakes with tonnes of fresh new ideas, Little Nightmares 2 is a stellar game in its own right and a testament to the power of horror storytelling that lets you find the fear for yourself.
A PS4 key was provided by PR for the purposes of this review.
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Little Nightmares 2 is an ambitious, thrilling sequel that occasionally reaches just beyond its grasp, but stays engrossing and terrifying the whole way through.
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