It’s been four long years since the release of the critically acclaimed Little Nightmares, a game that so brilliantly captured our morbid intrigue and guaranteed hours of YouTube content dedicated to unravelling what the hell happened.
Our insatiable need for incongruity survives through Little Nightmares II, where Six and Mono must travel to the unforgettable metropolis of the Pale City and discover the source of the malignant transmission that has devastated the world. On the whole, the follow-up succeeds in delivering a thrilling and captivating story starring two fantastic and miniature lead stars, set in a horrifying but quiet and dreary hellscape.
STORY – VAGUELY DELECTABLE
Little Nightmares II is just as characteristically vague and remote as Tarsier’s original. There’s not even any certainty in the chronology of the events that take place and virtually no context as to the identity and motivations of its protagonist(s) or even the nature of the world they inhabit. However, much like Playdead’s LIMBO or Inside, the story takes advantage of its delightfully relentless incongruity to simply keep the player moving forward in a fit of insatiable curiosity. Boy, it works.
Of course, we aren’t left completely in the dark. The playable character is Mono. He’s someone I reckon will be an instant favourite. We follow the heroic, paper bag furnished young boy after he’s mysteriously ejected from a solitary television set into a forsaken forest. Together with an all too familiar yellow raincoat-clad companion, the duo set out across new frontiers to the nightmarish megalopolis Pale City and the enigmatic Signal Tower at its centre – the eternally broadcasting monolith that has seemingly been hijacking the souls of the entire populace.
Mono and his dear companion will evade a wide array of child-trafficking monstrosities such as; the marauding, shotgun-wielding Hunter, the terrifying Schoolteacher whose approach to discipline seems questionable (at best), and finally the mysterious and emaciated keeper of the Signal Tower himself – the Thin Man.
It is an achievement how much personality Tarsier has infused into Mono, Six, and the ensemble of monsters, as well as the amount of intrigue they have built around their enigmatic world. There are some charming sequences that have a lot of heart, and Mono’s interactions with Six are absolutely adorable. You can even hold hands! It’s a bitter delight experiencing their journey and watching their relationship develop.
But to what end exactly? Who knows, really. It’s an incredibly sensory experience. It’s almost wholly pictorial. There is no dialogue or even any narration of any kind. There’s quite literally more information on the world and its characters in the promotional and marketing posts from Tarsier’s Twitter page. As such, it’s one of those kinds of stories that invites and indeed thrives on speculation.
This isn’t a bad thing. The incongruity nurtures the intrigue. I loved every second of my cluelessness, and you should too. You may not always realise the full extent of what’s happening around you, but thanks to the developer’s exceptional handling of presentation and emotional pacing, you will always feel invested in the kids’ wellbeing and the success of their journey.
GAMEPLAY – GO RIGHT!
In terms of gameplay, Little Nightmares II is an adventure horror platformer. You explore a rich world, pushing through chapters based in their own distinct environments while tackling obstacles and evading enemies with an impressive display of parkour, and solving the occasional puzzle. For the most part, the sequel stays true to the model that was so wonderfully realised in the first. Chief among the embellishments is the cooperative element. This time, you aren’t completely alone.
Having Six as a companion not only breathes fresh life into the series on an emotional level (as previously discussed) but permits a more ambitious approach to the mechanics. Obviously, puzzles now have the capacity to be more complex. Whilst they aren’t super challenging, sometimes a little assistance or push in the right direction can help. Six does just that.
What’s more impressive is just how well your companion is implemented into the “monster equation”. In this respect, adding an NPC companion could easily have gone awry. No one wants to be a babysitter – especially not in this world. But you needn’t worry about Six – she can look after herself. The developers know exactly when to let her shine and when to allow her to take a back seat behind Mono.
When you’re fleeing enemies, for example, Six can handle herself. She won’t get in the way and endanger you; in fact, it’s quite the opposite; she acts as a guide of sorts. For example, she knows when you should run and when you should hide.
The niggling (though largely insignificant) problems that chipped away at my enjoyment of the first Little Nightmares linger on. The 2.5D perspective occasionally makes it very hard to gauge depth. If I had to make a jump, for example, it’s very hard to tell whether I’m too right or too left of where I want to be.
You still have the slightly lethargic movement and the, at times, less than stellar checkpoints. Sprinkle in the stress of a colossal and unholy terror grasping for your yams, and you’re not always in for a good time.
GRAPHICS AND AUDIO – MIYAZAKI’S NIGHTMARE
The technical presentation is sensational. Little Nightmares II is ultimately very linear. It’s a rollercoaster of scripted sequences. But it’s so fluid in its movement, so charming in its design and so delicate with its sound design that the journey feels incredibly dynamic.
First, there are the visuals. I could honestly wager that every frame of the world would make for a great screenshot. I took about 80 through my playthrough, and I was holding back. The depth of field complements the scale and makes your perspective that much more appealing. I found myself pausing just to soak in some of the delightful ambience.
The design is equal parts charming and terrifying. There are some clear Studio Ghibli vibes in there (especially Spirited Away), some Coraline and even a sprinkling of Tim Burton. It’s very dreary and oppressive, but there are elements of the silly and the fantastical and the dreamlike. It’s honestly intoxicating.
Everything sounds great. Everything in the environment has weight and responds to your presence and interactions. Everything works together to create an ambiance that is unmatched. Every chapter has its own colours, sounds and aesthetic, so it’s always fresh and suitable and goes brilliantly with the pacing.
The soundtrack returns in peak form. There is the signature corrupted and melancholic lullabies with some electronic/synth vibes and haunting choir pieces to boot. Similarly to the aesthetic, the music is very much in conflict with itself. The innocent and the sweet in contrast with the oppressive and the harsh. It’s a fantastically apt backdrop for the story.
Little Nightmares II was reviewed on PC via Steam.