Little Nightmares 2 Review
Developer: Tarsier Studios | Publisher: Bandai Namco | Genre: Platforming Horror | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, PC, & Stadia | Reviewed on: PC
Dark, twisted, and disturbing, Little Nightmares 2 hits this unholy trifecta of horror with frightening accuracy. It thrusts you into a perilous journey where helplessness reigns supreme and unease is a very constant companion.
You wake up alone in a grim forest as a young boy with a paper bag over his head named Mono. With no recollection of how or why he got there, he has no choice but to set out through the hellscape where everything is larger-than-life.
The story is told entirely visually, with no dialogue between characters nor text logs to be read. The game expects you to be able to piece together the history of this dilapidated world yourself, which it accomplishes to varying degrees. Those who have played the first Little Nightmares will catch small details relating the two games but those who are jumping in fresh may find themselves scratching their head at certain developments.
Center to that inter-game connection is the presence of Six, the yellow rain-coat donning protagonist of the first title. Mono encounters Six early on and the pair travels together from then on. While AI companions in games reliant on stealth are hit or miss, Six is never in the way nor a bother. She even helps the player by pointing out objects of interest or giving Mono a lift to higher ledges. Most importantly of all, however, is the sense of companionship she brings, a sensation all the more amplified by being able to hold hands while traversing the world.
Any warmth felt at all is dearly welcomed in an environment as utterly hostile as that in Little Nightmares 2. Like the first game, Mono and Six are the size of a small toy in a decaying world full of giants. Mono occupies a tiny amount of space on the screen and the diorama-like presentation seems to sink into the background. Meanwhile, visual peculiarities that draw your eyes to the extremities of the screen enlarge the scenes beyond the boundaries of your monitor.
Scuttling like vermin between oversized furniture and underneath tables to avoid the eyes of the world’s malformed inhabitants layers dread upon the fear inspired by disturbing creature designs. A teacher with frog-like bulbous eyes and elongating neck and ceramic doll bullies are just a couple of examples of the horrors that await. While there’s no explicit violence shown, being caught by any of them feels terrible in the way Mono scrambles in vain to escape.
Paths to escape are not always apparent, however, and sometimes it’s not always clear how a monster noticed you when they do, making some sequences feel more like trial-and-error than real stealth. The problem is compounded by clunky controls, with Mono getting caught on corners or failing to slide under cover at the worst possible moment all too often.
The rare combat sequences are especially guilty of problematic controls. Smashing ceramic bullies with a pipe should be a welcome release from the oppressive helplessness prevalent in the rest of the game, but the poor targeting and lack of depth perception drain the moments of any such satisfaction. One particular sequence involving a flashlight and mannequins had me throwing my hands up in exasperation when Mono just would not focus on the killer chunk of plastic I wanted him to! While relatively infrequent, these sequences allowed frustration to overtake fear, which is a position a horror game never wants to put itself in.
Fortunately, when you finally overcome those moments of frustration, the game’s stupendous atmosphere manages to put you right back in your default state of unease. Little Nightmares 2 does not rely on jump scares, instead allowing its crumbling and dank structures and eerie audio design — such as the threatening hum of a TV — to constantly remind you that you’re never safe. Lighting is a particular standout, with the way it cascades across objects from Mono’s flashlight leaving me in awe at times… as long as he never tried to use it as a weapon.
These slower moments of exploration are punctuated by environmental puzzles. Whether it’s finding a key in an old teddy bear or finding a way to get both Mono and Six to higher ground, these puzzles serve as nice breaks from the stressful creature encounters. The game doesn’t overly rely on any single puzzle type and each solution strikes the fine balance of not being immediately obvious nor unnecessarily obtuse. Collectibles such as cosmetic hats for Mono and Glitched Remains necessary for the game’s true ending also dot areas for those willing to do a little searching.
Wrapped up in a concise 6-hour package, Little Nightmares 2 more or less accomplishes what it sets out to do before gracefully bowing out. The relentlessly oppressive world sets a constant tone of unrest that is only interrupted by the occasional contained instance of aggravation. There’s still nothing quite like its unnerving aesthetic that seems to stretch your very perceptions of its world and the addition of a companion adds a sense of hope where previously there was none. A unique journey that makes you feel like you’ve been to hell and back, Little Nightmares 2 is the kind of nightmare you don’t wish was just a dream.