Played on Xbox Series X
There’s something to be relished in the retelling of a nightmare. The moment that unsettling dream has passed, the elements and details begin to fade in to the obscure, leaving us with lots of gaps as we try to enthusiastically describe just how harrowing or upsetting it really was to our loved ones – or even ourselves.
Little Nightmares II, much like the first game, does not skimp on the detail. The world is cruel, dark and unimaginably unsettling. Reality is twisted and distorted, but recognisable.
And that, my friends, is what gets under your skin.
Grim Fairy Tail
The original game launched back in 2017, and was one I thoroughly enjoyed. Tarsier Studios absolutely nailed the presentation of the twisted broken world they have created, and this sequel lives up to and surpasses the original in every way. Gone are the tight confines of The Maw from the previous game, which was some sort of pleasure cruise for the monsters of our childhood imaginations. Instead, Little Nightmares II opens up and takes us from the great outdoors to the dark alleys and tall buildings of the Pale City.
This time around, you play as Mono, who will guide Six through this very bad dream to whatever end. You might have thought, if you’d watched a few trailers here and there before release, that co-operative play was on the cards. It isn’t, but Six is very much your partner throughout the game, and the peril this duo find themselves in brings with it some emotional beats that I shan’t spoil here. Suffice to say, though the player controlling Mono has agency and is the main character, it’s all very much about Six too. You will care for her, and you’ll want to hold her hand tightly as you make your way through the game. Indeed, the developers added a wonderful hand-holding mechanic, which while it serves no real gameplay purpose, is a stroke of real brilliance.
She’s also a key part in evolving the gameplay loop itself. Huge chasm to cross? Six will catch you. Unreachable ledge? Perhaps she’ll give you a boost up there. There is no dialogue, aside from the occasional grunt or cry for help, but despite this, there’s something about these two lost souls, clinging to each other through the horror of it all – surviving it – that is heartwarming. You’ll find yourself grabbing the AI controlled Six by the hand often, if only so you don’t feel so alone.
It is difficult to really describe the game here without getting into some serious spoilers, and as a side scrolling horror/platformer, the set pieces and their details are the largest elements that can have the most profound effect on you as a player. Suffice to say, across this 5-6 hour adventure, you will see and experience things you wish you could soon forget. From an escape cross-country as you’re hunted down; through a school, where the children are freakish porcelain puppets with locomotion and a teacher who really does seem to have eyes in the back of her head, you will find yourself constantly challenged – and equally, consistently dreading whatever may come next.
One particular sequence set in some sort of hospital features some amazing, gut-wrenching sequences that had me gripping the pad and swearing profusely. The game is macabre to the extreme, and while it deals in the grotesque, the inhuman and the abhorrent, it is also simultaneously beautiful. The game is wonderfully detailed, and the lighting, environment and level design are second to none. If I were to compare this to another absolutely stellar side scrolling platformer, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I would say this: Ori is a is a beautiful dream, perfectly realised. The other is a polar opposite – just as exquisitely realised in execution, but it’s a land of nightmares.
The sound design too, is elevated to be something more here. The squelch of muck, the squeak of a broken shopping trolley, the grunts and heavy breathing of some labouring, gelatinous thing as it moves around, just out of sight. As much as the world of Little Nightmares owes to it’s sickeningly well realised but warped reality graphically, it owes it equally to the sound and music too. The result is a perfect marriage that brings its crushing atmosphere to bear on the player.
Armed and Dangerous
Whilst the depth and quality of the environments, the games inhabitants, texture work and overall level and sound design have seen a clear leap in quality, that’s not all that’s new. As Mono, you can also wield weapons – a first for the series. Due to your diminutive size, these are dragged behind and somewhat laborious to use, so timing is everything – be it a woodman’s axe, a hammer or a soup ladel, Mono will do his best to strike true.
The game also introduces some neat contextual equipment for Mono to utilise. At one point a torch is found, leading to some truly terrifying gameplay as you struggle through a morgue and hospital, illuminating the darkest of places. The use of light overall in the game is exceptional, but this particular section really played on our natural fears of death and sickness, and was incredible to play through. Another sees us use a TV remote, enabling us to teleport around, in a devilishly realised puzzle sequence.
What might cause some frustration, and is partly a holdover from the previous entry as much as a conscious design choice are the controls. Navigating on somewhat 2.5D plane comes with some issues, and you may find yourself getting snagged on geometry or not making a jump because the angle of approach wasn’t ‘just so’. It can be a tad infuriating, but I also feel it’s a purposeful choice – you should never feel comfortable here. The slow to respond controls ensure that you really feel the panic as whatever lumbers after you gives chase. It’s certainly improved from it’s predecessor, but it’s still there and may irk some of you as you play through.
The last element I’ll touch on is the ending, if only lightly. The game was soaring high for me as I reached the final moment, and that moment, my friends, had my jaw on the floor. The pause, the slightest hint of slowmotion resulted in a hammer blow of feelings, ranging from anger, shock, and of course – horror. It was a moment, similar in the types of feelings and twists it envoked, to that moment in A Tale Of Two Sons – something that this medium can pull of in a way few others do.
Little Nightmares II then – a grimy, grotesque and greasy journey through a city of nightmares, it’s inhabitants a collection of melted skin and incorrect proportions, a twisted take on the world around us, with everything good and pure buried under an all powerful darkness. A journey worth not just experiencing, but one you deserve to survive through too. Will you be able to recall all the details once you’ve woken up? Probably – but you may not want to do so. Not yet. Let the nightmare fade first. Let the light come back in.