Back in 2018, Tarsier Studios took over YouTube and Twitch with hundreds of content creators playing Little Nightmares. It did what Playdead did with their creepy 2D platformer Limbo during the infancy of indie games. The atmosphere created in the original title was second to none, but for me personally, the gameplay suffered massively as a result. Clunky controls too often caused deaths, as did difficult-to-read jumps as the game is played on 2.5D plain. With the release of Little Nightmares II, did Tarsier Studios fix some of the issues with the original, or will it be a largely iterative sequel?
Just like the original title, Little Nightmares II is picturesque, every level could be a desktop background; the sheer amount of detail on show is insane. After a cryptic intro, you take control of the protagonist, with TVs littered all throughout the forest. Instantly you can see how detailed the game is, with some truly impressive lighting and weather effects. How the light glistens off the viscera as you explore the dreary dwellings of the world’s monsters is equal parts amazing and hideous. I often stopped to admire my surroundings, noticing little details that made me ask more questions than I had answers to. It’s moments like this when the game is at its best; my curiosity led me onto the next room, and quickly I had lost 2 hours exploring this fantastically crafted world.
Little Nightmares II is one of the most atmospheric games I have ever played. There’s a constant tension as you slowly creep from room to room just hoping that one of the unsightly monsters won’t be around the next corner. There is a noticeable lack of music, which makes the game feel so empty and lonely, even with your partner following you. There was one moment where piano music could be heard in the distance, and it created a sense of foreboding that wouldn’t have been possible if the music was commonplace in the game.
Direct storytelling is non-existent; there is no dialogue, and there are few cutscenes. I feel this is a good choice; the strongest part of the game is the tension and atmosphere, and while I personally didn’t find it scary (I don’t fair well with horror), any cutscenes would’ve taken me out of the game. The trade-off, however, is that by the end of the game, I was none the wiser as to what actually happened. This meant that if I wanted to grasp the story, I would have to take to the internet to read theories and speculation as to what actually happened. Online theories were a big part of the original, and the sequel is the same. Whether or not this is positive is arguably the most subjective thing about this review. While it creates a strong community around the game, some may be left wanting after an extremely cryptic story.
Little Nightmares II is a pretty basic 2D puzzle-platformer. As you slowly creep through the game’s creepy locations, you’ll find yourself pulling levers, climbing bookshelves, and finding keys. If I were to score this game off the atmosphere and world, it would score very highly. Unfortunately, being a video game, there has to be some fun mechanics here to entice you to come back. Plain and simple, they weren’t present in Little Nightmares II. Too often I found myself frustrated at the imprecise jumps and the games’ depth perception issues. There was one jump in particular that I had to climb shelves to get to that took, say, 30 seconds to climb and then jump from a ledge to a rope; however, the game did a poor job at conveying exactly where I needed to position my jump so I would reach the rope.
Other issues like slightly confusing puzzles or mechanics plagued the game. Like any other video game, there are established rules. See a keyhole? Then explore until you find a key. There’s a vent above a bookshelf? Then that’s where I need to go. Unless a door had a lock or was slightly ajar, then I didn’t bother with them; but for some inexplicable reason, about 3/4 way through, the game decided during a chase sequence that a door can now be pushed open; it was the first time it was introduced, and I died multiple times trying to figure out where to go. Little issues like this slowly wore me down across my short playtime.
The best part of gameplay is when you’re sneaking around the grotesque monsters. The areas where you encounter these enemies are so well crafted and, once again, are the most intriguing parts of the game. The levels are beautifully handcrafted, and the monsters fit them like gloves. Stealth works really well and, surprisingly, didn’t leave me feeling frustrated. The tension created during these moments rivals even the hardest bosses in a Dark Souls game; an impressive feat considering the difference in pace of the two titles. While these moments created the most memorable experiences I had from Little Nightmares II, they also create the most frustrating moments. The sluggish movement and platforming are most apparent during the chase sections. I couldn’t tell you the number of deaths caused by my character not grabbing onto a ledge or opening a vent while being chased. I can see the argument that they deliberately made the controls feel like this to add to the tension, but personally, I don’t buy it; a point that Resident Evil 2 remake proved in 2019. You can still create panic and terror in your player while having smooth controls.
If you enjoyed the original, then you will enjoy this game. I personally prefer the original as it took me by surprise; I knew what to expect with the sequel. Tarsier Studiosonce again created a disconcerting world that sucks you in, and I will be checking out some YouTube videos to help me understand the world better. However, they failed to make any marked improvements on gameplay. The issues that plagued the first game are still present here. As such, it’s hard to recommend to anyone who didn’t like the original.
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
Release Date: 9th December 2020
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Little Nightmares II was provided by the publisher.