Charlie loves her video games as much as she loves dumb, charming JRPG protagonists: probably way too much. You can often catch her spending too much time being emotional over LGBT stories in games. She also thinks Yakuza 6 is the best one.
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch
February 11, 2021
Bandai Namco Entertainment
The first Little Nightmares is an interesting video game. Originally releasing all the way back in 2017, it was quite a surprise and modest horror hit. The game wasn’t without its issues, be it awkward platforming or weak puzzling. However, that only left room for potential. A world expanding DLC and four years later, players now have a fully fledged sequel in Little Nightmares 2. The only catch is it’s quite a disappointing follow-up. Bummer.
Little Nightmares 2 follows on quite closely from its predecessor. Players control a young boy by the name of Mono. Displaying once more that developer Tarsier Studios employ interesting character design, our lead sports a curious paper bag over their head, wearing ratted clothing as they explore the large world ahead of them. Waking in a dark, wet and dingy world where all of the environments and their inhabitants are gigantic in nature compared to the small Mono, you look to be in over your head. Not quite sure how you got here, the only answers lie in the distant humming monolith of a structure known as The Signal Tower. Onward you travel, but you won’t be alone. Original protagonist Six is there for you in their trademark yellow raincoat. This time they serve as a (not so smart) AI controlled aid in their presence. It’s dangerous to go alone after all. Good luck.
Exploring the world of Little Nightmares 2 is captivating at times. When Mono is but a fraction of the size of their pursuers, assailants and environments you’ll come across, it’s easy to feel dread at almost every turn. Once more, it’s clear that where the franchise works best is atmosphere. Be it fleeing through a trap-filled woods away from a shotgun wielding hunter, exploring dilapidated buildings or traversing rain drenched rooftops and alleyways, it’s clear the world of trouble you’re in. This is aided by the wondrous graphical fidelity and attention to detail that areas offer you along with unsettling, wonderful sound design (when it works). All of the locations the game’s five chapters delivered to you, while varying, are quite consistent in maintaining that rich, horrific world full of stakes. It feels good… until you die for the fifth time in a fleeing or battle sequence due to cheap platforming mishaps.
Really, the game’s imagery and world are where there’s the most to write home about. Travelling across the city to the Tower, it’s clear how significantly more impressive the game is in the visual department compared to the prior entry. Throughout the game you’ll find humans captivated by their old-timey television screens that display only a static image. You’ll tiptoe your way around the halls of a school where there’s horrific, bratty students made of porcelain. Commanding and bossing them around is a terrifying teacher that’s tall and thin, that can elongate her neck obscene distances to peer around corners and through crevices. This – almost literally – allows for her to have eyes at the back of her head. The final sequence with her even has her head pursuing you in every direction through a tight, seemingly endless vent. Moments like these are absolutely horrifying in smart doses, and do well to have you wondering just what the hell is going on.
One of the biggest shortcomings of the original Little Nightmares is the platforming and puzzling the game offers. Though there’s proof of attempts to remedy these issues, they’re still wrought with problems. Pacing can absolutely feel off in Little Nightmares 2 when you consider just how clunky, and slow platforming can be. I get the design philosophy behind it – create a character that’s infinitesimal compared to the world around them. As such, have their agility be limited in order to foster tension in high stake situations. Yet, when you’re so prone to failure in your weak jumps and slow climbing, you’ll die a lot and replay the very same section until you somehow get it right. Fellow Checkpoint writer Elliot was absolutely correct when in a preview he foresaw this resulting in a loss of charm for the game. It’ll test and frustrate you, making you feel like you’re beating your head against a wall. All this boils down to is that Little Nightmares 2 is a game that doesn’t particularly respect your patience or time.
“Little Nightmares 2 is a game that doesn’t particularly respect your patience or time.”
Puzzles aren’t all that exciting here either. They’re serviceable enough, with your companion Six offering different ways to reach a solution. Though, they’re not particularly all that interesting just different. Now, your companion (when they’re at their best and actually perform the tasks they’re meant to) will just be the one pulling levers for you, boosting you up to taller heights and the likes. With a designated button to call out to Six at any time, it seems they’re meant to be more useful than they actually are. Only one combat situation saw this prompt becoming handy. This reeks of potential cut puzzle moments and a tone down of a reliance on your companion. However, that’s probably for the best. Puzzles are quite dull and Six will often be akin to a bag of bricks, getting stuck on doors and other objects.
The best puzzle moment the game saw comes near the end and saw Mono alone, travelling between television screens, using them as portals to access other areas in frankly quite smart ways. That was achieved all without your sidekick. Which just begs the question I had throughout most of the game: “Does Six really need to be here?“
The other new offering Little Nightmares 2 brings with it is the occasional combat encounter. On paper it looks like a welcome addition: a weapon is always helpful for increasing means of survival. Instead, it’s just another way of grappling with the game. Within combat arenas, be it facing a crowd of the aforementioned porcelain student bullies or the occasional boss, your provided weapon will be a tool bigger than Mono. These often look like axes or hammers that require the hero to drag them weakly with both hands behind them, only to muster all of their limited strength with an overhead swing.
Rarely do these attacks connect in a satisfying way or even in a way they look like they’re telegraphing to. Once more you’ll be faced with a lot more cheap deaths and sequences you’ll beat your head against in a wall against. Obviously not what the game needed.
Another thing worth noting about Little Nightmares 2 is that your mileage on game quality may vary. My ten hour run of the game wasn’t without it’s technical and auditory hiccups, whether it’s AI behaving bizarrely or dropping or delayed sound/music cues.
On the more frustrating side of things, I found myself hitting a roadblock about halfway through the game. I’m in a morgue with a dastardly butcher that can grab me at any second. To the left side of the room is a vent that Six can seemingly boost me through so I near it and my companion doesn’t bite. Okay, maybe I need to be there later. Maybe I have to climb the slates near the butcher. They do look like they lead to that fuse I can see that I so desperately need. Many attempts later and no luck. I wander around, exploring near the vent again and now Six does what they’re scripted to do. Now they want to work.
There’s so many instances like this in Little Nightmares 2 that you’ll face. Big or small. Sometimes it’s a lack of adequate signposting as to where players are to go and will have you realising “Oh, that solution I thought it so clearly couldn’t be, actually is what I need to do.” Other times it’s that the event you need to trigger to proceed just doesn’t. It leaves a lack of trust with the player, wondering which of the two is what’s leaving them stumped.
At the end of the day, Little Nightmares 2 is caught between a rock and a hard place. The game’s striking imagery and mood setting make for a decent, even at times great game. The world presented is intriguing and eerie for most of the way. However when push comes to shove, its redeeming qualities are marred by its at times glacial pace due to trial and error problem solving, bugs and clunk. Little Nightmares 2 becomes an average game that could’ve been so much more had it a little more time in the oven.
Unlike the original, Little Nightmares 2 isn’t a game I can envision reaching cult success. It’s sad to see, too. Already the predecessor was quite noble, flaws aside, it just needed some upholstering.
Instead, the follow up just adds more frustration and more jank over a longer time period. There’s absolutely striking imagery and wonders worth seeing in Little Nightmares 2. They’re just quite hard to recommend amongst all of the challenges the game presents.