Is more of the same necessarily a bad thing? Because for returning players who experienced the macabre delights of 2017’s Little Nightmares, this follow-up effort will feel like barely a departure, for better and worse.
Like the original, Little Nightmares II is set in a disturbing world where oversized, warped manifestations of flesh stumble about their lives, seemingly driven by the most extreme perversions of their roles – a teacher who exerts brutal rule over her class of sadistic bullies, a doctor eager to perform whatever surgeries his vapid patients desire, a hunter who relentlessly stalks even the most insignificant prey. Around them, the world lies in ruins – abandoned playgrounds, decrepit buildings, eerie forests, all curiously filled with broken televisions and a strange, hissing signal permeating the air. As Mono, a small boy, you must navigate this unsettling world, drawn towards the Signal Tower from where the omnipresent broadcast emanates. Like the original, gameplay is a mixture of stealth and puzzle solving, progressing through each titan’s domain room by room – or, in outdoor sections, screen by screen – while avoiding detection. Much of the sense of fear in the game comes from the pervasive dread of being almost utterly insignificant, a desperate, tiny creature skittering through the darkness to survive inexplicable horrors.
Tarsier Studios does make an effort to bring more elements of combat to the game, but they’re deliberately slow and stultifying moments, rather than empowering ones.
New ideas in Little Nightmares II are refinements more than evolutions. Six, the protagonist of the first game, returns in a supporting role, allowing for puzzles that require two people to solve – boosting you to a higher platform, for instance, or challenging you to get both Mono and Six through a sequence unharmed – a nod to the classic Ico, perhaps. Several sections see Six dragged away though, leaving Mono to rescue her while reverting to the same kind of dodge-and-hide mechanics of the original.
Developer Tarsier Studios does make an effort to bring more elements of combat to the game, but they’re deliberately slow and stultifying moments, rather than empowering ones. Mono may find a bludgeoning instrument on occasion – a stick, a lead pipe, a ladle – and be able to dispatch the occasional smaller enemy. The Teacher’s swarm of bullies, for instance, have disturbing, seemingly ceramic heads that crack apart with a well timed swing, but miss your very specific window of attack and you’ll be torn apart. Literally.
However, with so much feeling the same, the scares and even the lingering sense of dread aren’t as impactful in Little Nightmares II. More often than not, being gobbled up by a creature with a horrifically snake-like neck who has spotted you hiding in the rafters is frustrating rather than frightening – it’s often stuff returning players will have already seen. Thankfully though, regular checkpointing means you’ll never have to repeat too much of a section if you fail.
There is an effort to deliver an arguably deeper story here, albeit one to be interpreted given the continuing absence of dialogue – if Little Nightmares was about the horrors of consumption, Little Nightmares II, with its world corrupted by television and an insatiable content machine, is about the horrors of being sucked into an observed world you can’t escape from. However, that and the team-up mechanics between Mono and Six aren’t quite enough to evolve this beyond that aforementioned more of the same. Again, no bad thing for those who enjoyed its predecessor, but for anyone hoping for a more substantial sequel, it may disappoint.