I’m not sure anyone expected the wild success of Little Nightmares. The horror puzzle-platformer launched in 2017, and has since had great critical success and player reviews. It was so well-received that it spawned a comic series, although that ended after two issues instead of the four planned; there was also a six-episode digital comic series released earlier this year. There is a television series in the works, and while much is unknown, there are some very big names attached: it is developed and produced by the Russo brothers (best known for their work in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), with Henry Selick (Coraline, The Nightmare Before Christmas) being involved in some capacity, hinting that the series could be stop-motion.
Following all that excitement, it makes sense that the original game’s developer, Tarsier Studios, made a sequel that continues the story and using the same gameplay style. It is publicly known that Little Nightmares II will be the last game in this world developed by Tarsier; publisher Bandai Namco very well may continue the world, but any future games surely just won’t be the same. And that is part of what makes Little Nightmares II so enthralling: the developers loved the world enough to make a sequel, but have zero interest in making any more. That’s not something heard about very often when something is successful. If anything, companies will milk any franchise for any drop of cash it may contain. The finality of the developer’s involvement makes the game feel like it’s a legitimate ending.
The first Little Nightmares revolves around Six (AKA the girl in the yellow raincoat) and her quest to escape the Maw, a giant underwater vessel designed to be lived in by those much larger than herself. Little Nightmares II follows a new character, Mono, although he discovers and teams up with Six quite quickly. He repeatedly has a dream about a door featuring an eye at the end of a long, twisting hallway, but he always wakes up before he reaches the door. Mono and Six are trying to get through Pale City, a world again made for those much larger than the antagonists. Televisions are scattered everywhere. The citizens of Pale City seem to be very attached, basically zombies as a result of watching television – an obvious yet accurate portrayal of the real world and screen addictions. Mono is able to tune the transmission on certain functional televisions, which returns him to the hallway from his dreams and has him passing through as though he’s in a dream trying to run and only moving in slow-motion, but he still never opens the door. The hallway experience is, oddly enough, one of my favourite bits in the game. Maybe because the dream-like setting and inability to move in it are familiar? In addition to the televisions, there is also clothing scattered everywhere, despite being a lack of folks wandering around in the nude (which I am rather grateful for).
The journey is leading the pair to the Signal Tower in the centre of town. It seems as though it has something to do with the television zombies, as it does broadcast to the city. Further that, my lips are sealed, although I will say that the ending makes the story seem cyclical and I really, really like that. Between the beginning and the Signal Tower, Mono and Six will pass through several locations. Each is distinct: for example, the city is dark with a blue tinge, while the school contains a bit more colour variety (unless you turn off the lights, as one can imagine would happen in life). The story resembles the first, with a child trying to escape a world left to rot and die; or, to me, trying to escape a desperately lonely and difficult existence where the world seems to be out to get them.
There are some definitive moments in the game that really stand out despite being rather simple and possibly obvious. I spotted nods to horror films, such as a “here’s Johnny!” moment (although with a shotgun rather than an axe). There are some echoes of Tim Burton’s works, such as children with heads that look like a doll’s has been broken in half. Taking this into consideration, a stop-motion television series seems to make perfect sense. In addition to familiarities with popular culture, there are also some downright clever bits. For example, in the school, there is “randomly” a toy duck sitting on the floor, but it actually signals to Mono that he should duck when he reaches it because a booby trap is about to swing down. That little visual gag absolutely delighted me, although my love of toy ducks may have something to do with that.
As I mentioned way back in the second sentence of the review, the Little Nightmare games are puzzle-platformers. With the addition of a companion, I automatically compare the gameplay style to Unravel Two, except there is more scattered body parts and far less yarn to contend with. Because of this comparison, it’s a bit sad the game can’t be played cooperatively. That second character would be perfect for some couch co-op assuming they had a few more abilities. The tutorial is a bit slow, which makes it frustrating; it basically leaves you to hang for several minutes before teaching what should be made instantly clear, like how to climb a ledge. Once I was through that, though, it was clear sailing. Puzzles do get more difficult as the story progresses, but never to an impossible level. Another set of eyes often helped me see what I was missing, and vice-versa when they took over the controls to try it out. The best aspect was finding ways to set off booby traps in a manner that helps, not hinders.
When the first game was released, the developers said they’d prefer the stealth aspects to be called hide-and-seek since the main character is a child. But let’s be real, when it involves being chased with a gun, hide-and-seek doesn’t really cut it, does it? It’s definitely stealth, sorry developers. It doesn’t help that I absolutely despise trying to be stealthy in video games. I’m one of those people that mostly ignores defensive actions and goes right for the offence – for example, if I’m playing an action RPG I will literally run at the enemy and start hacking away at them instead of trying to beef up my security first. Being sneaky and stealthy fall into the defensive role that just doesn’t interest me. It results in some very repetitive segments that I have to play over a dozen times.
Little Nightmares II is broken into several chapters, allowing players to replay each as required to discover all the collectibles. The main collectibles are different hats that Mono can wear, but really, is anything ever better than a paper bag over the head? I think not. There are also glitching remains, flickering black ghosts that Mono can find; discovering them all unlocks a secret ending. The glitching remains seem to be affected by whatever transmission the Signal Tower is sending out, as they resemble an image on a television that isn’t fully tuned into the signal.
The game’s visuals are quite pleasing, which seems like an odd thing to say when there are dead body bits scattered about. It’s dark without being impossible when calibrated correctly; often, I have to up the brightness to see things, but I had no issue here. The blue tint is part of what can make it so “dark” yet visible – I just have to try and ignore the fact it reminds me of the blue tint in the Twilight films. The focus is really well done, changing as Mono moves towards or away from you (not left to right, more front to back). Backgrounds being out of focus is one thing, but the foreground also goes fuzzy when Mono moves, giving him almost a spotlight except with in-focus versus out of focus instead of light versus dark. The sound ties everything together. It starts especially quiet, with the sounds of nature being most of the noise. Suspenseful music picks up once you stumble onto an old dilapidated house and move forward.
I can’t review anything without including accessibility details relating to my specific issues, because I believe it is entirely relevant to how good a game is. If I can’t play it, I won’t like it much, will I? Of course, I focus more on the narrative than the button-pushing, but the buttons are still there. There are very few options in Little Nightmares II; basically, you can change the sound and brightness, and choose Mono’s hat. That’s it. There are no in-game options for difficulty, vibrations, control mapping, font, etc. Luckily, there is very little text so that doesn’t have a huge impact on the gameplay. Vibrations can technically be turned off via PlayStation’s settings, but that’s a bit of a hassle. Preferably, it would be an in-game option, possibly even with different levels. As it was, the vibration is quite strong.
When it comes to the difficulty… well, I mentioned I hate being stealth, and there’s where the difficulty becomes problematic for me. I have chronic pain issues that flare terribly with repeated actions. I hate spending an excess of time on something that’s simple for most others because I can’t move fast enough, which then turns into my chronic pain flaring due to the repetitiveness. I can know what needs to be done but I just can’t do it fast enough, and often have to give the controller to someone else that will complete it in like two tries just so I can move ahead with the story. There have been many arguments about whether or not difficulty options are actually needed, but for some of us they are. If I didn’t have help, I’d still be stuck in the dilapidated house and couldn’t actually review a whole lot. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand how it is supposed to play, it just means I can’t play it that way. I’m used to working around things like that, but unless someone also has to, they probably don’t fully understand why there’s a small player base begging to be able to actually enjoy things.
So there are some very clear positives and very clear negatives to Little Nightmares II. The narrative is quite good, solid with lots of meaning flowing beneath the surface. The gameplay is mostly simple enough, the settings are ugly-pretty, the music enhances everything. Basically, it does wrap into a neat little package that can be unwrapped in layers. I can’t ignore the issues, though, mainly with the lack of options and repetitiveness that can happen with failure. Still, Little Nightmares II does in fact feel like a conclusion to the first game in the series, yet still manages to turn it into a never-ending story so that someone else would be able to continue with the world. In that sense, it’s actually quite clever.
– Lindsay M.