Review: Little Nightmares II – The sounds do not bode well. The bone and bone screeching of chalk on a blackboard. The dull blow of a ruler hitting fingers. The scraping of a dozen pens on paper, almost desperately, as if the writers are trying to keep up with an impossible pace. And then we are there: the classroom materializes out of the shadows – monstrous, grotesque and subtly out of proportion. Like nightmares often are. The traumatized children have bent over their notebooks; the teacher towers murderously above them. I realize that I should not be spotted, but I also know that crossing the road unnoticed is not easy. I take a deep breath and begin my agony. Ten seconds later I unhappily bump into a table. The teacher freezes. The – horribly deformed, I only realize now – children turn around like one man. This is going wrong. This is going horribly wrong.
Little Nightmares II – BIO
|Genre||Survival/ Horror / Puzzle-platformer|
|Platforms||Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Stadia, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S|
Little nightmares grow big
The above scenario is one of the many situations from Little Nightmares II that gave me goosebumps. That immediately gets me ahead of things, because Little Nightmares II is the right kind of sequel in all areas. A sequel who knows what made the original so successful, honors it and then starts to deepen it. As an accomplished interior designer, developer Tarsier Studios retains the shell, and then thoroughly rebuilds everything within that feast of recognition. An architect with a pretty sick mind, by the way. After all, the scenes that Tarsier Studios burns on our retina this time are particularly disturbing – and we mean that as a compliment. What’s more, rarely have we experienced a 2.5D platformer that came out so damn intense.
If the first part took place entirely on a bulky floating vessel, then Little Nightmares II bravely heads out into the surrounding universe with head held high. You are Mono, a little boy who wakes up all alone in a dark forest and then is catapulted from one bad dream to another for six hours. You venture into the city, where adults with extreme TV addiction regard every interruption as an attack on their rights. You get into trouble with a burnt-out teacher, who – according to her army of porcelain students – has completely learned the wrong lessons from Pinocchio. And you meet a little girl with a preference for yellow raincoats. For those who haven’t noticed yet: Six, the main character from the first Little Nightmares,
Hand in hand through the darkness
The collaboration between Mono and Six gives the chilly journey through nightmare land a touching piece of warmth; a literal line of daylight in an eternal night. Six is not playable – Little Nightmares II remains an experience that you should have on your own – but it does help you over, around and sometimes even through the necessary obstacles. It gives you a push to reach higher ground, leads the way in frantic chases and occasionally even provides a distraction when an enemy threatens to spot you. This creates a surprisingly emotional bond, which Tarsier Studios exploits like an accomplished puppeteer. By the way, don’t expect a straightforward story. The game explores what it means to be a defenseless child in a grim adult world. The environments and enemies are bursting with symbolism,
Defenseless is a big word, by the way. Where in the first part you had the choice between hiding and choosing the hare path, Little Nightmares II now offers the possibility to take up weapons at appropriate times. Mono can use elements from his environment – ranging from a cleaver to a large soup ladle – to beat up oncoming villains in the brains. Tarsier Studios already warned us about the clumsy controls, a conscious decision to make the player feel helpless even with a weapon in hand. In reality, that ‘clumsy’ is not too bad. Confrontations in Little Nightmares II mainly rely on timing. Choosing the right time to start a dash towards the weapon, take it in time… that sort of thing. We think it all works fine.
A ten for creativity
Don’t get us wrong: Little Nightmares II has not become a hack-and-slash title. The emphasis is still on sneaking around. After all, you can’t just fight the overgrown creatures that make every level unsafe – let’s call them ‘bosses’ for the sake of convenience, although this term doesn’t quite cover it. It must be said that Tarsier Studios comes out here with a level of creativity that proves to be as admirable as it is terrifying. From the teacher already described to a resident on the ceiling who suddenly looks straight into the camera at an unexpected moment… Little Nightmares II repeatedly made us hold our breath and grip our controller more tightly. And for the suggested retail price of 29.99 euros, you can’t really wish for anything better.
Tarsier Studios has focused on variety and rarely misses the ball. We were thrown from one unexpected scenario to another, keeping the game interesting from the first to the last minute. It is simply very clever what the developer is able to do with the limited set-up of a 2.5D platformer. Very memorable, for example, is a collision with mannequins, which rivals a similar scene from the already fifteen year old Condemned: Criminal Origins. We’re not going to tell you exactly how Tarsier Studios accomplishes this, but trust us it’s worth it. The way Little Nightmares II incorporates the soundtrack into the actual gameplay also deserves a compliment. Anyway, on the hat… we’ll just take that hat off.
Before you rush to the store to get Little Nightmares II… there are also some downsides that we should address. As creative as Tarsier Studios has been, the developer has not managed to get rid of the annoyances from the original. That means that it is still quite difficult to estimate when you are in the right place to grab a certain object or take a difficult jump, something that is especially annoying when you are being hunted in-game. Little Nightmares II also relies a little too much on trial-and-error, and we feel not always consciously. When you know exactly what to do, but miss a jump five times in a row because the achievable distance is apparently being adjusted haphazardly, then your controller sometimes dares to end up in the corner of the room with a well-aimed arc. It never gets too frustrating, but we have to report it.
Graphically Little Nightmares II has taken a few steps ahead compared to its predecessor. The levels are packed with details and really come to life. From the rain that forms pools on the street surface to Mono’s footsteps in the sand … the world of Little Nightmares II just doesn’t jump off the screen. Add to that a nice play of light and shadows, and you realize that the game really makes an impression. The sound effects are appropriately ominous and lead to that, for horror fans, oh-so-recognizable feeling of paranoia, which makes you have to make an effort not to look over your shoulder regularly. The soundtrack plays in a damn creepy way with all kinds of innocent child tunes at first hearing, adding an extra dimension to the underlying theme of the game.
Little Nightmares II – Conclusion
Time to repeat: Little Nightmares II is a sequel that honors the original while still managing to provide deepening. Tarsier Studios shows its most creative side and delivers a disturbing adventure that has repeatedly given us goosebumps. We can only express our appreciation for the way the developer plunges us from one chilling scenario to another, without ever becoming predictable. The game also scores excellent figures on a technical level, with beautiful graphics and sublime audio design. Unfortunately, the annoyances remain from the original. Little Nightmares II still lives on trial-and-error, partly because it remains very difficult at times to correctly estimate the depth of the 2.5D levels. Don’t let that stop you, however. This is that exceptional nightmare you really want to experience. Sleep tight!
Positives of Little Nightmares II
- Underlying theme
- Showcase of variety and creativity
- Damn creepy and intense
- Graphically handsome
- Sublime audio design
Negatives of Little Nightmares II
- Focus on trial and error
- Depth still difficult to estimate