Little Nightmares II Review – Bigger, But Not Better

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GAME INFO

Little Nightmares II

February 11th, 2021
Platform PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch; Xbox Series X/S, PS5 later in 2021
Publisher Bandai Namco
Developer Tarsier Studios

The original Little Nightmares left a surprisingly large and lasting impression on horror fans. In addition to its unique art style and accessible mechanics, the game did a fantastic job of capturing what nightmares, real nightmares, actually feel like. Strange, mysterious, and often terrifying for reasons that don’t make a lot of sense. That said, despite the warm response and solid sales, few expected Little Nightmares to spawn a franchise. And yet, Little Nightmares II scuttles our way later this week.

Little Nightmares II is bigger, more complex, and varied than its predecessor, but has this series lost some of its dark charm in the process of growing up? Hopefully you’re rested up because it’s time to dive deep into this new Nightmare…

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For those just joining us, the first Little Nightmares starred Six, a yellow-raincoat-wearing little girl lost within The Maw, a surreal floating underworld filled with grotesque cannibalistic creatures. Six managed to escape her fate, but it was hinted along the way that she had a rather dark side of her own. Little Nightmares II casts players as a new character named Mono, although he quickly stumbles upon and rescues Six. Turns out all the horrors Six faced in The Maw were just the beginning – the entire world is just as messed up.

Mono is inexorably drawn to a giant transmission tower that might just be the source of the darkness afflicting the world, while Six follows along with him for self-preservation, and perhaps other reasons that aren’t quite as clear. Little Nightmares II once again takes a wordless, ambiguous approach to storytelling, although this time around we actually get some rather surprising twists and turns toward the end. This game’s story got me to drop an audible “Oh, damn” or two.

Little Nightmares II is a major visual leap forward for the series, at least on a technical level. While the game is still largely played on a 2D plane, levels feel larger and more intricate, with some impressive lighting and weather effects. From the rubber-necked schoolteacher to the wobbling ceiling-clinging grub-man, to a genuinely-terrifying late game baddie I won’t spoil, enemy designs are as unique and off-putting as ever. And yet, despite many improvements, I didn’t feel like Little Nightmares II delivered as much atmosphere as the first game. Sometimes less is more when it comes to horror, and this game’s more detailed world doesn’t provide as many shadowy blanks for your mind to fill with terrors.

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Speaking of less is more, the original Little Nightmares was about as simple as it gets. Six could jump, duck, illuminate the environment with a lighter, grab stuff, and…that was about it. Basic platforming, puzzle-solving, and stealth sections where you had to avoid the game’s weird Muppet-ey abominations were the order of the day. Little Nightmares II is still a scary-good time when it sticks to these fundamentals, but developer Tarsier Studios muddles things with an array of new mechanics.

Little Nightmares II may appear to be a co-op game at first, but Six is actually AI-controlled and only helps out during certain key moments. It’s basically a small-scale version of the Joel and Ellie relationship from The Last of Us and works well enough. Unfortunately, almost everything else added to Little Nightmares II is a flop. The game now features combat, which kind of feels against the ethos of the original Little Nightmares, and is generally clunky as hell. Mono doesn’t carry a weapon, you have to find something like a pipe or axe lying around, position yourself just right to pick it up, then sloooowly drag it across the floor and watch an equally-sluggish canned attack animation as you hope against hope that you actually connect with an enemy. It almost feels like a cruel parody of what video game combat should be. Later you’re given a flashlight, which can be used to stun certain enemies, but controlling it with the right analog stick as you’re moving with the left is frustratingly imprecise. Every chapter is also now capped off with an extended chase sequence, and these are exciting in theory but rely far too heavily on trial and error.

Little Nightmares II is unhealthily fixated on trial and error in general. Sure, the original Little Nightmares required some experimentation in order to find the right path past certain enemies, but this game is absolutely packed with instant death gotchas no player could reasonably see coming. Open a door and get whacked on the head with a bucket, pass through a teleporter that drops you directly down a chasm – sometimes it feels like the game is pranking you. The middle stretch of Little Nightmares II is particularly tiresome, with school and hospital levels bursting with combat, clunky action, and unfair traps. Thankfully, the game rallies somewhat in its final chapter, which amps up the atmosphere, focuses more on platforming, puzzles, and stealth, and unleashes that particularly creepy enemy I told you about. Sadly, it’s not quite enough to fully redeem the overall package.

Ultimately, Little Nightmares II ends up feeling padded, which is a somewhat odd thing to say about a game that’s only around 6 hours long, but the original felt just about perfect at only 3 hours. There’s still some juicy horror to bite into here, but I wish I could skip the mediocre sides.

This review was based on a PS4 copy of Little Nightmares II (played on a PS5) provided by publisher Bandai Namco. You can pre-order the game here

6

Little Nightmares II often manages to recapture the unsettling essence of Tarsier Studios’ original game, but almost every attempt to expand the formula falls flat, resulting in an experience as lumpy and misshapen as the game’s shambling monstrosities. If you loved the original Little Nightmares and need to know what happens to Six next, this sequel might be worth your time, but more fair-weather fans may regret reliving this particular bad dream.

Pros

  • Visuals are more detailed…
  • Disturbing new enemy designs
  • Platforming and stealth still work
  • Story takes some surprising turns
  • Excellent soundtrack

Cons

  • …but those details hurt the ambiance
  • Too much trial and error
  • Combat is deeply irritating
  • Feels padded despite short length
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