Little Nightmares II Review
Watch your Six
Do you remember what it was like to see the world as a child? To experience that sense of wonder, where everything was new and big? When grotesque giants chased you down grimy hallways and you clambered over huge furniture? Well that was probably a memory of the original Little Nightmares, which took a child’s perspective and twisted it until out came a decent puzzle-platformer. The sequel from Tarsier is more of the same. It is a bit longer, with more variety and action, and it still has the delightfully weird and unsettling world. Little Nightmares II should please fans of the original, although it inherits some of the same problems.
In the first game you played as Six, the little girl that wore a yellow raincoat, but for the sequel you play as Mono, a boy with a paper bag on his head. Mono wakes up in the forest and stumbles upon a house surrounded by traps. Six is down in the basement, playing her music box alone. After Mono frees her, she joins him and they explore. Beyond the forest, across a river, lies a twisted city with a demented tower shining overhead. Like the citadel from Half-Life 2, the tower looms, casting a strange transmission. The city is home to giant humanoid citizens and they appear locked in a trance, fixated on their TV sets displaying this bizarre signal. When the power is absent or cut, the giants find their hatred for things small and pursue Mono and Six into the dark corners of the city.
Six is like a co-operative partner, although you never control her. She just follows Mono around and interacts with the environment. She might use a winch while you hold onto a rope. If a ledge is too high, she will give you a boost. All of her actions are automatic and the only requirement is to get close enough for her to engage. This seems like it would be suited for a cooperative game, but Six is not always around. Sometimes she is kidnapped and Mono has to find her. Other times Mono enters a new area alone and must solve puzzles so Six can rejoin him. As the two overcome challenges, you will notice that Six is rather disturbed; she basks in the glow of a burning foe and mashes a prosthetic limb to create something freaky. Six is both endearing and creepy, so when you’re not looking for her, you might be looking at her with troubled eyes.
Primarily consisting of puzzling and platforming, the sequel has plenty of variety. On the basic level, you’ll need to drag furniture to reach ledges, turn off power to remove electrical obstacles, and throw small objects at switches. There are many locked doors that need keys that are hidden about. Although mostly a side-scrolling adventure, from left to right, the world is fully three-dimensional and so is movement. There are many times when Mono will need to come towards the screen or go back to explore buildings in depth and the camera adjusts to suit. It all works smoothly as there are not many complicated areas or puzzles that keep you in place for long.
The brisk forward movement is aided by a few different mechanics. One of these is the flashlight, which Mono can use to explore a dark hospital. The light is also used for protection, as disfigured mannequins become animated when the lights go out. You have to shine it at each of the encroaching figures while weaving between them. It ends up being a bit like dealing with the ghosts in Super Mario Bros. 3, only with much better horror design. The other tool you acquire is a remote control that can turn TV sets on or off. Doing this may break the trance of any giant glued to the screen, which could lead to Mono needing to hide or run.
Hiding from the giants is a regular part of the sequel. While any large being is a threat, stealth is usually reserved for the more prominent foes that stick around for a whole chapter. Foes like the school headmistress whose neck elongates like a snake, winding its way toward any noise from some distance away. When this happens, you must scurry into boxes or get behind obstacles. Another level has a grotesque fat man that hangs from the ceiling. Here you scramble under beds to avoid being grabbed from above. While the stealth works alright, there are a few gotcha moments where the threats appear without enough warning. Any delay locating a hiding spot usually means you will be found (and probably eaten).
Chases have even less tolerance for mistakes. Usually they incorporate a bit of platforming, where you slide under obstacles or climb up walls. You might even need to drag a stool before a tall man progresses down a corridor. Just bumping into a doorway will cost enough time to be caught. And because the camera often pulls back, the position of Mono is not as clear as during typical gameplay. Just being slightly off parallel from the wall means trouble. Plus the thing about chases is that the most appealing aspect is the unsettling creature in pursuit, so trying to look back at them comes at the expense of navigation.
Mono can fight back against smaller threats, like the fragile hollow children from the school. The children leap from a short range, which leads to an instant death. Fortunately Mono is able to drag a melee weapon around (hammer, axe etc.) and swing it to kill them in one blow. Timing each swing is crucial and being too slow or quick will result in death. The best of these combat situations occurs in the hospital as you fight jumping prosthetic hands that crawl around like a facehugger from the Alien movies.
With alien hands and creepy mannequins, the hospital is one of the best areas in the game, but not the only good one. Across four distinct chapters, there are many great set locations. Most have more detail than the original game. They all give off such a gloriously unsettling vibe that compels you to push forward. Some of the best moments are the quietest ones. After a long chase or action sequence, the game slows down to provide a breather. Exploring dingy tenements, under the sound of pattering rain, is a nice reward for all the trial and error stuff.
The game thrives on abstract visuals too. Seeing beds suspended by ropes above an endless void is such a memorable scene. It’s a pity the abstract design goes a bit overboard near the end and it loses some charm. It also lacks the great humming music from the original. That main theme seems to have been suppressed because you are not playing as Six, but its replacement is not prominent. The individual chapters also feel a bit disconnected, in part because of new mechanics and new threats. Some effort was made to unite them by providing regular TV screens to interact with and giving views of that tower, but the five hour adventure still needed more coherency.
Little Nightmares II is suitably dark and twisted, and it offers some good puzzling and platforming. If you liked the original then you will enjoy the sequel because it is a longer adventure, with more variety thanks to a few new mechanics. With Six as your sidekick this time, you will navigate through some excellent levels that offer wonderful abstract designs and creepy interiors. There is more action too, although both combat and the chases are still too intolerant of minor errors. But these issues don’t make a big difference in a game that gets so many little things right.