The original Little Nightmares released in April of 2017 and quickly became one of my favorite games of that year; it was certainly my all-time favorite of what was becoming an increasingly robust library of side-scrolling adventures inspired by classics such as Limbo and Inside. Now, after a painfully long wait we finally get to continue the adventures of Six but not entirely how many would have imagined. Unlike the first adventure many things have changed in Little Nightmares II including; how you play, where you play, and even who you play.
No longer set onboard a cannibal cruise ship, we begin our story like so many other games of this genre, alone in the creepy woods. Meet Mono, a frightened little boy with a sack on his head, alone in the woods. Like the first game you are simply inserted into this world with no idea of what to do, where to go, and why you are doing any of this. Oddly enough, you’ll still have most of these feelings and even more questions when the credits start to roll 6-8 hours later. For now, it’s time to explore this wonderfully mysterious and terribly creepy new world.
If you played the first game then you will know exactly what to expect from Little Nightmares II, but there are also a few surprises tossed into the mix. First, Six will quickly team up with Mono introducing a new AI co-op element to some of the puzzles and level traversal. While not exactly a fresh idea it still adds something new to the design, plus having a companion along for the adventure will help ease that sense of loneliness, but it also enhances the tension of solitude when you become separated. New commands allow you to shout out to Six and even hold her hand during times when you need to stick together or work as a team.
The original game had you collecting gnomes and smashing porcelain statues, but in Little Nightmares II you’ll be collecting hats and dispelling the spirits of lost children, both of which have tallies you can view in the chapter select menu. I thought I was pretty thorough in my initial playthrough but only ended up with half the hats and spirits, so there are a lot of well-hidden secrets likely stashed in cleverly concealed areas. The hats are a particularly nice feature that allows you to change up Mono’s appearance, and considering how much it rains in this game it felt really natural to wear the yellow rain cap for most of the game, although some hats must be worn at certain times to unlock rare achievements.
Both the original and the sequel are designed around a core of exploration, discovery, and solving a long list of moderately challenging puzzles. There were probably 2-3 puzzles that had me stumped for more than five minutes, but that only made the “aha moment” of figuring them out that much sweeter. New to Little Nightmares II is the addition of combat. Mono can now pickup items like a pipe, axe, ladle or even a stick and start whacking at enemies; a concept that balances between fun and failure with equal success. Early on you can smack the ground with a stick to reveal bear traps concealed in the blanket of leaves. Later you will smash a small army of animated porcelain dolls that reminded me of Pinocchio, and a bit later you’ll lose your mind and your patience trying to whack these animated mannequin hands with a pipe as they skitter around like Alien face huggers. Mono is very small and weak, so he must drag any of these larger weapons around reducing his movement speed, plus actually swinging the weapon requires a lengthy wind-up period with a momentary pause after impact. You can’t go into these combat situations mashing buttons; you have to watch carefully for visual clues on when you should strike and they can be subtle.
Despite some original locations like a school and a hospital I couldn’t help but feel the designers were borrowing a lot of the visual design from the first game. There were even some scenes/rooms that looked like they were lifted straight from the original. But there were also some cool carryovers that tied the two game worlds together like the abundance of discarded shoes littering so many locations. Even more sinister was finding these full sets of clothes lying about the world as if all the adults had been “raptured” or somehow abducted right out of their clothes. That’s not to say all the adults are gone. Each level has a terrifying boss character you must evade and somehow defeat. Early on it’s a hunter in the woods then a medical examiner lurking in the hospital morgue, but perhaps the most terrifying adult in the game is the school teacher/librarian with this telescoping neck that will totally freak you out. Oh yeah…there is one more adult that will cause you to lose sleep; the thin man from another dimension that crawls out of TV’s like that girl in The Ring.
Speaking of TV’s there is one particularly clever level that has you using a TV remote to turn on/off TV’s that can then be used as distractions for the zombie-like adults hypnotized by the static, or as teleport nodes that allow you to phase into one TV and exit from its matching set. These create some pretty cool navigation puzzles and are a nice change of pace from the “find the key to use in the lock” puzzles found everywhere else. Another innovation on puzzle design is this one area where you must use sound to navigate a maze of passages and stairs with multiple doors by listening in each doorway for the music.
Little Nightmares II looks and sounds amazing. The art, shadows, textures, lighting, and animation are all fantastic with a dynamic camera that perfectly frames the action yet still allows you slight panning adjustments with the right stick. The camera also seems to have a greater range of zoom with much of the game being played so that characters appear larger on the screen than they did in the first game, allowing you to appreciate all the subtle details, but the camera can just as easily pull way back revealing just how tiny these kids are as they make their way across a sinister skyline. The water effects are ultra-realistic with rain falling, puddles pooling on the ground, thick streams of water spilling off of rooftops and gutters and sheets of water cascading down the sides of buildings. Lighting plays a huge part of the game, not only in setting up the eerie and oppressive atmosphere but also when using your flashlight, which becomes a tactical weapon that can temporarily freeze some enemies when caught in its beam.
The sound design is perfection thanks to Tobias Lilja who created an amazing score that enhances the visuals and sets the mood along with sound effects ranging from realistic natural environmental sounds to some truly horrific supernatural effects. The paranormal sounds coming from the TV broadcast are terrifying; almost as terrifying as the cries, groans, and screams of the adults when they are chasing you through a level, and the expert use of the 7.1 surround mix will totally immerse you in the experience. With all of the rain I would love to hear this in a Dolby Atmos mix, but the continuous water effects already had me taking numerous bathroom breaks so maybe not. You’ll definitely want to play this with the lights turned down and the sound turned up.
Overall I had a great time with Little Nightmares II. There were brief moments of frustration; never with the puzzles but rather coming to grips with the combat timing and numerous moments where a lack of clear depth perception has me missing jumps, grabs, and swings because it was often unclear where Mono was positioned within the Z-axis of this 3D world in a 2D presentation. There were at least two chase sequences that had me getting stuck on bits of the environment and one combat section with Mono vs 4-5 severed hands that took over 20 minutes to figure out. Otherwise, controls were nice and responsive.
There were parts of the game that did seem to drag on. The developers claim the game is twice as long as the first and I felt like an hour of this could have been cut or replaced with a sixth chapter. There was this repetition of going in and out of buildings, scrambling across rooftops, zip lining down clotheslines with exterior streets and building interiors that all look remarkably similar and eventually got a bit boring. Even major locations like the school and hospital started to get repetitive. There was this intelligent design to the first game that all fit into the theme of being on a giant ship. Little Nightmares II just seems to meander about various design themes, sometimes lingering too long in one place.
As much as I enjoyed Little Nightmares II I still think I had more fun with the original and it’s DLC. I had fun with the co-op moments and thankfully Six’s AI worked well with no glitches. There were plenty of cool design elements added to the gameplay, but I think the combat was unnecessary. I found outsmarting enemies with a flashlight, TV remote, or smashing them with Home Alone-style traps far more rewarding than beating them with a lead pipe. If you played and enjoyed the first game then this is a no-brainer. While it doesn’t really continue the story of the first game Little Nightmares II does offer a horrifying peek into a much larger world that will leave you with more questions than you had going in. Bring on the DLC so we can learn more.