Review by Oscar Whitkin
Have you ever had a dream you could’ve sworn was real? One that feels like your own world, that draws on your memories and experiences, yet feels wrong, distorted and warped beyond recognition? That feeling is Little Nightmares 2, in a nutshell. This game nails that thoroughly unsettling feeling of being trapped in a dream, a nightmare, unable to escape, being chased by something utterly unavoidable and inevitable. This game is a true successor to the first game, Little Nightmares and for the most part goes even further beyond, despite some flaws.
Like its predecessor, this game is a mix of sneaking, puzzle-solving and fear, described by the developers as ‘hide-and-seek’ (they didn’t use the word “stealth” because they believed it implied the player had some kind of advantage over the enemies).
Little Nightmares 2 has you play as Mono, the boy with a bag on his head. He’s a bit larger and stronger than Six, the protagonist of the first game, to the point that he can actually pick up heavy things like hammers to smash smaller enemies and boarded-up doors. This, along with some co-op abilities, kept this new character refreshing and made him feel different enough to be a unique experience.
Six isn’t totally absent from the game - quite the opposite, in fact. Her and Mono act as teammates and puzzle-solvers together. Six is controlled by AI, which was worrying to me at first. Video games don’t have a spectacular record making co-op with AI work well – too often they are just a burden or means to an end with zero personality. And Six does get in the way sometimes - standing around when the puzzle requires her to move, or when she’s supposed to be leading you to the solution. I appreciated the feature that allows you to hold hands and lead her around to make sure she didn’t wander into the monster’s viewpoint and get you both killed. Six is strongest in the story element; I was pleasantly surprised by how her choices felt alive, individual, meaningful. They humanized her, and she becomes more than just a tool to solve puzzles.
Speaking of, the puzzle segments are my least favourite part of the game. They’re good on paper, but I found them unsatisfying. The solution is almost always the first one you think of, and yet it’s impossible to know it because the game gives no indication that it’s the right one. For instance, there was a segment where you were trapped in a hallway full of doors. A singular door played music when you got close, but when you stepped in the door, it takes you back to the beginning of the level. The solution? Repeat. Keep going through the door with the music and eventually it takes you to the next stage. This kind of puzzle solution just didn’t make me feel clever – I didn’t outsmart anything, and the solution is boring and confusing.
This disappointment isn’t common - most Steam players who posted reviews seemed to enjoy the puzzles - but I feel this is because the puzzles are very hit-or-miss: when you happen to get them right on the first try, it’s enjoyable. If you happen not to notice the solution right away, it becomes a drag.
Despite some shortcomings in gameplay, Little Nightmares 2 makes up for it and more in its atmosphere. It offers a haunting, grim and distorted universe, from the eerily silent Wilderness to the ancient and rotten School to the horrors of the Signal Tower. This game never failed to capture my interest in the world around me. Each area has a distinct feel, yet also ties into each other enough to make it all feel connected.
The unsettling atmosphere creates plenty of disturbing moments throughout the game, and you’re always predicting that there’s going to be something right around the corner. There rarely is, however, which is somehow worse. This horrible feeling of anticipation and unease really lends to the feeling of being trapped in a nightmare. For example, in an abandoned cottage in the woods you find a stuffed human at a table. Their fake eyes are falling out and their stuffing is bloated and warped cotton batting. It never comes to life or has anything to do with the progression of the game, but it lingers in the player’s mind, adding so much to the atmosphere. Little Nightmares 2 is absolutely full of moments like these that separate it from other horror games, which mainly rely on jumpscares to get their fear factor. This game does something new by building on a sense of fear that doesn’t go away when the adrenaline does – it stays with you, which somehow makes the scare much worse and the game much better.
However, the true horror of Little Nightmares 2 comes from its antagonists. Each of the four chapters has its own unique monster which pursues you relentlessly until you escape from (or in some cases, kill) it. These monstrosities are each fittingly nightmarish in their own way – from the Doctor, whose bloated mass hangs from him as he clambers around on the ceiling of the hospital, wheezing under his own weight while he performs surgery on mannequins, to the Hunter, who lives alone in the woods, skinning and stuffing captured people to populate his house. They are all things that kids are scared of – a doctor, a kidnapper, a cruel teacher. The game is truly viewed from the lens of a child’s nightmare, and really taps back into those childhood fears that we all had at one point.
Unlike the vast majority of horror games nowadays, Little Nightmares 2 is a subtle masterpiece. A unique and beautiful art style and atmosphere mixed with intuitive gameplay and difficult but reasonable enemies makes for one of the greatest games of its kind. Although it can be frustratingly simple at times, it always delivers moments of heart-racing suspense, horrifying settings, and terrifying opponents. It has truly lived up to the hype and the expectations set by its predecessor, which was no easy feat. All in all, another stunning success from Tarsier Studios. ■