Little Nightmares II Review
Little Nightmares II is the sequel to the well-received, side-scrolling horror platformer of the same name originally released in 2017. Changing protagonists to a child named Mono who wears a bag on his head and leaving the seafaring Maw behind for dry land, this iteration expands on the original in every way. Its setting and environments are more varied, its platforming and mechanics are better, and its graphics render the world with even more haunting beauty. There are small, frustrating issues with both the newly introduced combat and the 2.5D camera causing you to jump to your death Crash Bandicoot-style, but this is an otherwise excellent journey, oozing with atmosphere, that shouldn’t be missed.
You are Mono, and you awaken in a dark and gloomy wood, alone. That’s as much as you’re given before embarking on this journey. But it isn’t long before you have a companion — Six, the yellow-raincoated girl from the first game, who helps boost you to out-of-reach places or pull objects that are too heavy for just one person. It’s a welcome change to have the added dynamism of a co-op partner, albeit an AI, and it changes the feeling of the game to one of exploration, as opposed to the original’s survival mission. And like the first game, it’s surreal nature means you’re intentionally left in the dark when it comes to motivation, purpose and meaning.
This new world has a new threat: The Thin Man. Dressed in mid-20th century attire and living atop the mysterious Signal Tower, he captivates the citizens of the city via televisions. Speaking of citizens, he isn’t the only threat. Just like the original game, the game is split into soft “sections,” each having a theme and a “boss” related to that theme. Take the school and the schoolteacher from the already-released footage, for example. The teacher has a neck that extends like Stretch Armstrong, and it can snake around the room and find you as you hide under tables or in boxes — spooky.
While the original game’s ship setting was good, the new city-and-surrounds setting of Little Nightmares II allows for more varied experiences. In addition to the aforementioned school, there are dark and trap-filled forests, derelict buildings, water-logged streets, and other unique places with their own themes. It’s a fascinating world to explore, and the game’s developer, Tarsier Studios, made the right decision getting us off the ship and into the wider world.
The level variation also allows for a larger variety of gameplay and puzzles. Take the forest where Mono starts his adventure: it’s covered in leaves that hide bear traps, which can be set off by smashing them with a stick. In other places, you can pick up items scattered around the environment to knock down objects in your path so that you can access new rooms. This is where the addition of Six as a co-op partner comes into play, with many activities requiring two people, such as one of you holding a rope for the other or boosting each other to new areas.
Generally, the puzzles require more thinking than the original’s, too. You have to notice subtleties more, like a box in the background that has barely visible marks on the floor in front of it indicating it can be moved. Another one has you interacting with a board game’s pieces, and requires knowledge of that specific game. Little Nightmares II will most certainly cause you to rack your brain with some very clever puzzles. The rewards for these puzzles are always either a golden key or a fuse, both either opening locks or getting electricity to doors and elevators so that you can progress on to new areas.
Combat is another new addition. In the same way you can pick up sticks to set off traps — holding the right trigger/R2 and pressing A/X to swing — you can also pick up other items like pipes and smash your way through half-broken doors, or enemies. There are different enemy types, and they have different attack patterns; some will charge at you requiring you to be quick, others will feign an attack but jump back at the last second, goading you into swinging and leaving yourself open. And leave yourself open you will, as Mono’s attack animations are deliberately slow to make combat tenser, according to Bandai Namco’s Lucas Roussel.
Playing a minor role throughout, the combat can be hit or miss. Overall, it’s a nice addition, but there are certain sections where enemies swarm you, and their varying attack patterns must be memorised to beat them. Each enemy requires multiple hits to put out of commission, but Mono can receive only one before it’s game over. Upon death, you’re put back at the start of the section, but this too can be erratic; sometimes it’s exactly where you died, other times it requires you to traipse long hallways and run a gauntlet of enemies that jump out at you, only for you to swing your weapon at the wrong time, die, and have to do it all over again. This happens a couple of times in the course Little Nightmares II’s seven to nine hours, and it is a frustrating exercise in patience.
The graphical design on offer is brilliant. It’s a bigger world, with far more objects and larger play-spaces. Rotting meat with flies buzzing around, sewn together dolls busting at the seams, leaves kicking up as you’re running from threats — there is attention to detail here, and it shows. This extends to the bigger, boss-type characters, like the one who chases you through water-logged fields, shining a flashlight everywhere in the darkness and knocking things flying in an attempt to locate you.
And the audio has had just as much, if not more, care put into it. Pianos and classical music provide background ambience, reaching a crescendo of violent violins during horrifying chase sequences. But it’s not just the music that’s well-crafted. The way Mono and Six whispers “Hey!” to each other when they need help is both cute and haunting, the loud smashing of a glass bottle accidentally knocked from a shelf while you can hear the scrambling of an enemy in the next room puts you on edge. Audio plays a huge role in Little Nightmares II, and it’s yet another area where the Tarsier team have excelled.
Like the combat, your expedition towards the Signal Tower is not without some platforming irritations either. The more open areas sometimes become the games Achilles’ heel, with the 2.5D camera struggling to provide sufficient depth of field to allow the player sufficient perspective to judge long jumps, frequently leading you to nosedive Mono to his death. It isn’t a frequent occurrence, but it is something that should be mentioned as it will affect your enjoyment of the overall experience.
Make no mistake though, Little Nightmares II is fantastic. It oozes with a creepy atmosphere. Its story subverts expectations and has an ending that makes you say “whaaaat!?”. It will make you jump, it will put you on edge, and it will make you keep pausing to wipe your sweaty hands. It is better than its predecessor in every way — gameplay, story, world — expanding on everything it did and making it better. But it’s also a game that will frustrate you with its combat and platforming at times, and those times happen just a little too often to ignore, but you should still play this game despite these issues if you’re in the mood for a dark and surreal puzzle-platformer.
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