Horror games or movies is something we commonly think involves a hapless person or group of people that have to run from some sort of ghost, monster, or serial killer. Where the victims are suddenly placed in a situation where they are put in constant fear as their survival is threatened. When it comes to cosmic horror, however, how it instills fear into you changes a bit. Rather than making the characters try to escape certain doom, they are slowly brought to the realization that their struggles are meaningless. You encounter beings and forces that exceed how one might believe the world works, and are left powerless, in despair to be able to act on them.
Little Nightmares 2 (LN2) lets you experience fear in a multitude of ways. Going into this game with no idea of how the previous title was like or any of the existing media about it, I honestly thought this was a game meant to scare little kids. It certainly seemed that way when you consider the style of animation and rather simple mechanics. However, they had much more planned than a few jump scares to spook its audience.
The game begins where you play as Mono, a character who covers his face with a paper bag, popping out of a TV. You no idea how that happened or why you’re there, but what we do know is that you have to keep moving. And that’s gong to be done through either solving the puzzle to get the next door open or simply running for your life as some unspeakable horror chases you down.
Production (4.5 / 5)
While we are starting to look at the last gen consoles like the PlayStation 4 as hardware that’s slowly becoming obsolete, Tarsier Studios have done a remarkable job with how it looks. It takes advantage of the style it’s using, as you’d often associate it with animations meant for children. This makes the punches hit harder when things take a darker turn. Seemingly innocent elements like bird cages or children’s toys are given unsettling features which reveal their darker nature upon closer inspection. Characters throughout the game, big or small, move unnaturally and give the player an uneasy feeling toward them as soon as they do. I would compare this to something like Nightmare Before Christmas, but with much, much less restraint. I think it would have really outdone itself had it went on to animate various types of death when the big baddie catches you or you miss a jump, but I suppose they wanted to keep the rating as universal as possible.
The stages are designed to flow naturally, even if each area is separated with vents or pipes, the progression of where you’re coming from and where you’re going feel natural. The less frantic areas are also littered with perhaps clues to the story, or something that will make you ask more questions. Things like ‘how could so many bones pile up in one place’? or ‘how are there just these sets of clothes lying around?’ These questions could haunt your mind as you try to quietly solve the puzzle of the next room.
The audio experience set by LN2 is well tailored to produce the fearful, oppressive experience they were aiming for. Given that there aren’t really any spoken lines in this title, to get this right was a must. And considering how it maintained tension and kept my hairs standing on end on certain moments, I’d have to say that they’ve hit this part out of the park. it’s definitely not the sort of music that I would like to play on loop while I’m trying to have a relaxing time alone at home. But I think Little Nightmares wouldn’t be nearly as spooky or thrilling without such a well-executed score and expertly timed stingers.
Mechanics (4 / 5)
This is probably the first time mechanics would be the shortest part of my review.
In terms of controls, you run, jump, crouch and hold onto things. In context of several stages of the game, you make use of crouching mostly to hide during stealth sections, running to escape, jump for platforming, and finally grab to interact with various objects or tools. There’s also the call function, but it doesn’t seem to do much else than have your AI companion answer back.
In certain areas you are given a special function to match what’s there, like a remote control or a flashlight, but they’re specifically for areas that need them. There’s not much to worry about when it comes to dying as you’re sent back to the start of each separate section when you fall or get caught. This unfortunately kills the suspense when you start fail at the same point several times, but then I’d really hate to do 10-20 minute runs over and over again because I missed a jump.
Speaking of missed jumps, the graphic nature of this game and its cinematic camera angles unfortunately hurt the gameplay a bit, as this plays tricks with depth perception. Running into a wall or misaligning a jump was a fairly common occurrence during my playthrough. It was a bit annoying, but I eventually got over it.
Content (4.5 / 5)
Little Nightmares 2, gameplay wise, is a puzzle-platformer at its core. It does well to explore several types of puzzles. These could range from simply moving some platforms so you can get to a higher place, to deciphering an arrangement of chess pieces to activate a switch, to planning a trap for something out to get you. They throw in a few gimmicks and tools to mix up what you’re supposed to do, which keeps the game fresh. There are also points where you must sneak your way past whatever’s lurking around, maybe run from them, and at some rarer points take them down.
The game isn’t really concerned with holding your hand for you to understand what must be done. There’s no real UI to speak of, it’s up to you to figure out what you can interact with and how exactly you’ll move about to avoid danger. It will tell you how to do what on the fist time you have to use it, that’s all. Whether or not you can move a stool, climb a book case, hang onto a rail or whatnot, is up to you to find out.
When it comes to what Little Nightmares 2 presents in terms of theme and story is a bit different. It takes advantage of making settings where certain typical fears manifest. Afraid of the dark? Yeah, there’s something moving where you can’t see. Fear of heights? Falling from a high enough place will kill you. Claustrophobic? You are chased even in the smallest of spaces. Do you recall being afraid or your teacher or doctor? This title will remind you why. Some scenes will just make you jump from your seat and want to run as quickly as possible. But if you don’t pay attention you will easily miss hints that will get you over the next obstacle.
The story is shown to you in this drip-fed fashion, where all you really get are scribbles on a wall and clues in the areas you scour through. Nobody will bother to really tell you anything, and it’s up to you to put two and two together. The question is if any of it will really make sense.
Your frantic escape may end sooner than you expect, and this is typical for games that want to maintain the intensity that this sequel does.
Features (4 / 5)
You’d think there’d be a co-op function in a title that has two protagonists, but this isn’t the case. There is however, some hidden glitches and hats to collect through each chapter, matched with a chapter select that lets you get to those certain parts faster. This adds some replay value to the game.
If you’re willing to comb through Little Nightmares 2 for all its hidden things, you’ll be treated to a secret ending when you finish the game.
I must say that I’ve sorely underestimated this Little Nightmares 2. Thinking that it was a game meant to scare children while being chased by some sort of boogeyman. The developers had balanced a good helping of jump scares and creeping horrors while maintaining this overall oppressive tone through each part of this title.
If you think about it, the story could be rather simple once you’re able to explain everything. But that’s not the point of what they wanted to make. Each encounter can be very visceral, meant to inspire feelings of desperation, fear, dread, and the like. Considering the visual style, it was like it wasn’t trying to take itself too seriously, which allowed for shifts with the tone once in a while for a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Whatever Tarsier Studios set out to accomplish, I believe they have with this game, and I look forward to their future installments as they have done nothing but make an excellent experience. It’s not for those who are looking for a game to sink their hours into if they like to grind out gear like in MMOs, but it’s certainly a great pick up for anyone who wants something short, sweet, and slightly harrowing.
Available on PS4, XB1, PC, Switch, Stadia, and soon on PS5 and XBX.