Ever had the dream where you try to fight but can’t lift your arms?
Little Nightmares II taps into the same wide-eyed, can’t-look-away fears that made the 2017 original such a surprise hit. The sequel tones down the grotesque, meat-grinder slop that winked towards Ghibli, instead focusing on a more recognisable terrorscape that’s takes its legs from Japanese horror and fuses it with a brain lobotomised by creepypasta.
This game feels like it’s played on the brink of sedation in a world that suffocates new protagonist Mono with its dwarfing claustrophobia and verticality. Skinny buildings line the streets and jagged furniture dominate entire rooms as the child fights his way through a constricting adult world.
The Maw, the boat you explored as Six in the original, has gone. Outside of its walls is a broken city whose inhabitants are sleepwalking towards their television sets and a signal tower that acts like a spaceship, brainwashing the population into an inescapable trudge towards insentience.
"Mono battles on, sometimes aided by Six, whose experience helps open up pathways and routes that would otherwise be insurmountable"
It’s bleak, but all the more traditional horror when compared with Six’s adventure. The boat is exchanged for a school, hospital and rain-battered alleyways that feed apartment blocks together to form an endless hallway which seems to stretch further the deeper you progress.
Mono battles on, sometimes aided by Six, whose experience helps open up pathways and routes that would otherwise be insurmountable. Movements are intentionally heavy, but just like the first game, this causes some issues that remove players from the tension and softens the impact of what’s happening.
Front of centre of the problems is the addition of combat. These sections are simple enough; you grip onto a hammer or tool, then drag it towards an enemy and aim to crush them before they pounce. One early example has you surrounded by kids who one-shot kill you, while another has you waiting to break the fingers of a hand that crawls along the floor. Neither feel sharp or that they need to be repeated.
Nailing a shot isn’t particularly difficult, but it borders into frustrating territory because replaying a section five or six times massively kills the game’s momentum. I found myself dreading the next highlighted weapon. Even though it only ever took a few minutes to surpass the challenge it was always obvious that those minutes would be irritating and take me out of the otherwise atmospheric location.
"That tall, thin man is terrifying on approach, but not when you’ve seen it play out 10 times because one misstep is punished by an insta-kill"
A few of Mono’s standout moments away from combat also suffer in a similar way. One chase scene in particular is littered with gaps and objects that are difficult to clear at speed because of the game’s imprecise control. It’s floaty and strangely weighted.
Adding to the dream-like state by design is smart, but Little Nightmares II has a tendency to sacrifice some of its most heightened scares through its bloatedness that leaves no room for error. That tall, thin man is terrifying on approach, but not when you’ve seen it play out 10 times because one misstep is punished by an insta-kill. It’s at such odds with what the game does well. Extended moments of tension; where you can see the horror and must work out how to escape, are excellent.
An aggressive, long-necked teacher and fat, slug-like miscreant who crawls on the hospital ceiling are memorable character designs in a series that rarely relies on jump scares. Instead, an insidious slow build keeps the stress lingering and underpins the realisation that you are the thing in the dark. Your enemies are not afraid, and they are actively hunting you.
Six’s return as your AI companion adds some extra spark. Traversing through levels with her feels like a demonic version of the scene from Toy Story where Buzz and Woody run across a busy road while hiding under cones. Each step forward feels big. This is a game that rarely shows the faces of its denizens, so having Six in play helps ground Mono and adds to the sense that he isn’t as well-equipped to push on.
"Little Nightmares II does a good job of opening up the series’ wider world across its playtime of approximately 4-5 hours."
Puzzles are light and won’t have you thinking for long. Six provides subtle hints and a literal helping hand for most, not that it isn’t always pretty clear what needs to be done. There’s an interesting use of an X-ray machine at one point and the final act introduces some fun shifts of perspective through the use of doors.
Certain moments also force you to manipulate light and use a remote control to mess around with televisions. Both are examples of tense gameplay being well woven into narrative and underline how the combat sections miss the mark. Mono’s trek is most effective when it isn’t frantic and when you are forced to overcome danger by tip-toeing things to your advantage.
Little Nightmares II does a good job of opening up the series’ wider world across its playtime of approximately 4-5 hours. Exploration is limited and aside from some hats to collect, it doesn’t scream to be replayed once you’re done.
The best and worst of this game can be described as ‘wretched;’ from the creeping sense of dread to the controls that work so avidly to stifle your enjoyment. Ever had the dream where you try to fight but can’t lift your arms? Little Nightmares II embodies that perfectly.
- Great sense of creeping horror
- Main enemies and prevailing message are memorable
- A couple of smart puzzles
- Awful lack of responsiveness in controls
- Sections lose impact when being forced to replay
- Ends quickly
Little Nightmares 2 will be available soon on the PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PS4. Publisher BANDAI NAMCO kindly provided a PS4 review code to DailyBits for free for the purposes of this review.