Little Nightmares 2 – a big improvement on the first one (pic: Bandai Namco)
The sequel to Tarsier and Bandai Namco’s much loved puzzle platformer offers another nightmare for Six and her new friend to explore.
Turning the stuff of people’s nightmares into a video game might sound like a risky move, but with 2017’s Little Nightmares, tiny Swedish studio Tarsier showed that our darkest, unconscious fears could provide fertile grounds for entertainment. Happily, the second instalment of Little Nightmares suggests that the developer has become even more confident in exploring its peculiar vision of adolescence.
Wisely, Little Nightmares 2 doesn’t deviate significantly from the blueprint established by its predecessor. Once again, it puts you in control of a small child, this time called Mono, adrift in a semi-deserted, hostile world filled with adults who will attack him if they see him.
His unspoken quest is to make his way to somewhere safe. But this time around, he’s not alone. Initially, he makes his way through ominous swamps and creepy farmhouses, soon hooking up with Six, the protagonist of the first game. The pair evade a farmer with a shotgun and stumble into a gloriously realised nightmare city.
The city provides fertile ground for some wonderfully memorable puzzle-solving, along with sequences involving platforming and stealth and even a couple of encounters that are effectively boss battles. At times, the pair have to co-operate in order to progress and while you can’t control Six directly she can boost you up to inaccessible places or catch you, effectively extending your jumps.
Atmospherically, Little Nightmares 2 is impeccable – it’s dark, weird and twisted, without ever quite straying into horror movie levels of scariness. And it’s very minimal; Mono can run, jump and grab, and at times use objects he picks up, including a torch and a TV remote, but that’s all.
He can also pick up things like axes and lengths of pipe, but can only really use them for smashing a path through rotten doors and the like; because he’s small, he struggles to lift them, so he drags them behind and you have to time his thwacks with great precision. That may sound like deliberate clunkiness but it contributes to a striking vein of tactility that runs throughout the game.
As Mono and Six make their way through the city they traverse areas with very distinct natures, including a school (containing some children who react aggressively to the pair, but can be hit with weapons, at which point they shatter like dolls) and a terrifying hospital in which headless patients will attack Mono unless immobilised with a flashlight beam.
Little Nightmares 2 is rammed full of puzzles which must be solved in order to progress, the vast majority of which are gloriously inventive and memorable. At times, you need to employ all your powers of observance; if you’re stuck, it often pays to observe how Six is acting, since she can offer subtle, wordless hints about what you need to do. Chapters in the game often conclude with the sort of chase sequences that precede waking up from nightmares in real life.
Little Nightmares 2 – it can be properly scary at times (pic: Bandai Namco)
Despite not containing a single word of dialogue, Little Nightmares 2 somehow manages to be genuinely thought-provoking at times, especially as you enter its late stages and encounter an adult population utterly in thrall to what beams out of its televisions. It seems to be conveying a very apposite message about the dangers of broadcast propaganda, as the adults are near-zombified by their TVs and if you switch one off they will simply move to the next one (which functions nicely as a puzzle-solving mechanism) or pursue you relentlessly.
But that’s just one instance of the game’s general cleverness, with its deliciously bizarre atmosphere supported by stunning sound design and horror movie style music; while other sequences are dominated by the weird, mutated creatures you must work to evade and the meticulously detailed environments they live in. Little Nightmares 2 ruminates on the subject of innocence and what seems frightening or incomprehensible to children, but its themes are subtly stated and left open to interpretation.
Tarsier Studios has also directly addressed criticism of the first game – Little Nightmares attracted brickbats for possessing clunky platforming, occasionally un-cooperative camerawork, and inconsistent checkpointing. This time around there’s none of that, with more sensible checkpointing and camera angles that tend towards wider angles. And while there’s a certain amount of deliberate clunkiness inherent in Mono’s platforming – he’s a child, not Sonic the Hedgehog – the level design takes that fully into account.
All of which leaves you feeling as though you’ve been working your way through a piece of animated art, just as much a video game. So much so that the only disappointing aspect of Little Nightmares 2 is that you’ll struggle to spin it out much longer than six hours, although exploration will reveal cleverly hidden hats that Mono can collect and wear, which offers a modicum of replay value.
Overall, though, Little Nightmares 2 offers new proof that video games are indeed an art form, as opposed to the violent, instant-gratification pap that some quarters habitually characterise them as. If you enjoy the sheer diversity of gaming, and can appreciate the craft that goes into them, you’ll love Little Nightmares 2.
Little Nightmares 2 review summary
In Short: A thoroughly entertaining work of video game art that improves mechanically on the original and proves thought-provoking in terms of more than just the puzzle-solving.
Pros: Superb puzzles and solid platforming that’s a marked improvement on the last game. Deliciously creepy atmosphere, with great sound design and music.
Cons: Could be longer and a few of the puzzles can be a bit too obscure.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Release Date: 2nd February 2021
Age Rating: 16
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