Little Nightmares 2 pushes the formula from the first game forward with a lot of largely inventive changes, most of which work out.
I really hope I don’t end up kicking myself for saying this later, but I think the era of streamer-bait, jump scare-ridden, cheap thrill horror games are behind us. Much like movies, that’s not to say that they don’t have a place in the medium. I just don’t see a world where that kind of horror game can be considered the best of its genre.
The first Little Nightmares was part of the first wave in a new era of horror games. Sporting deeply unsettling character design and an art-style to match wrapped up with solid stealth platforming, Little Nightmares stood out as an experiment worth repeating. Luckily, Little Nightmares 2 carries the torch with aplomb while avoiding retreading old ground.
When I first previewed the game, Little Nightmares 2 left me with a sense that the game would take a wider, more action-packed scope, allowing for more diverse sections in its world to shine. I’m pleased to say that I was wrong in the best way possible.
Beginning in a setting that’s altogether foreign to the first game’s aesthetic, Little Nightmares 2‘s first level is a lush forest. God rays break through a verdant canopy of trees, lighting the game’s silent protagonist, Mono. From go, it’s clear that the forest’s false sense of security is the first of the game’s many facades. You immediately feel the sense that you’re being hunted. Bear traps litter the ground and the subtle, driving beat of the game’s moody soundtrack pushes you forward.
Eventually, you arrive at a house. The game nudges you into the house’s basement into the company of Six, the last game’s protagonist. From the moment the two characters meet, they’re chased by a hunter until they’re able to escape him and make their way to a city.
In that time, Little Nightmares 2 shows off a lot of what it has to offer, especially in comparison to the first one. Six serves as a decent AI companion, helping Mono get to out-of-reach ledges and doorknobs and pushing bigger objects.
In any other platformer, an AI companion would be a hindrance. Luckily, Little Nightmares 2 manages to use Six as a means of dishing out power in moments that remind me of the end of INSIDE. These moments certainly don’t have to be there. In fact, part of why Little Nightmares 2 works is because you’re being hunted by someone more powerful than you the entire game. The moments when the game finds opportunities to break its own rules stand testament to the power of its two protagonists. There are even moments that focus on Little Nightmares 2’s own version of combat, with surprisingly kinetic, action-packed sequences that see Mono charging through a hallway with a stick or a hammer or an axe.
Unfortunately, these more action-heavy portions don’t always work. There’s a persistent depth of field issue in Little Nightmares 2 that feels reminiscent of a Crash Bandicoot game in some ways. The game’s camera holds back a lot of the action sequences because it obscures something in just the right way to keep you from seeing what you need to see.
While it holds back some of the newer elements added to Little Nightmares 2, the camera is largely an improved version of the camera from the first game. It brings a slightly more grandiose and cinematic flair to the game in the same way that the action-heavy moments do.
The camera’s more cinematic approach was one of Tarsier Studios’ best changes to the Little Nightmares formula. While the first game’s environments were certainly pretty, they generally served as bleak, washed-out vehicles for the bosses in each level. The levels in Little Nightmares 2 feel like they’re part of a cohesive theme.
Even the enemies and bosses feel slave to the game’s overarching themes of oppression, isolation, and control. While the creature design is less blatantly grotesque and memorable, it’s much scarier overall. The ways that encounters with them are framed make them all the more frightening.
Each level goes beyond their creepy takes on everyday locations like schools or hospitals to help convey the game’s general bleakness. After the first level, set in the woods, the rest of Little Nightmares is set in a city. Blanketed in blacks, blues, greys, faded whites and the occasional purple, the city that serves as the backdrop for the rest of the game is downright stunning.
I found myself taking screenshots around every corner. Little Nightmares 2 does such a fantastic job of letting its environments shine exactly when it needs to. Between moments of despair, terror, solitude, and horror, it will throw something beautiful your way. Sometimes it’s a room with some soft lighting and peaceful music. Other times, it’s a shot of the bleak city’s skyline. Regardless, they always provide opportunities to smell the roses.
While color and architecture all contribute to give Little Nightmares 2 a cohesive theme, each level feels unique. Some opt for puzzle solving, while others focus more on the game’s action. Others take a much more cinematic approach and feature multiple chase sequences to flex its lovingly-crafted world.
Unfortunately, that beauty comes at a cost. Throughout my roughly five-hour playthrough, I found myself getting stuck because a vital element of a level was obscured. Sometimes a lever was just out of reach from the nearest light source. Other times, I had to do a claw grip on my controller so I could adjust the camera while I was moving.
For the most part, each level taking on its own theme allows each section to be distinct from the last. The problem is that some levels focus on mechanics that feel too gimmicky or repetitive to carry a half-an-hour-long segment of gameplay.
Little Nightmares 2 takes a lot of risks. As it builds on the solid gameplay formula from the first game, it manages to set itself apart from its predecessor by pursuing a more consistent theme. You feel small, weak, and insignificant at the hands of the oppressive world around you. The blues and greys populating the city amplify the stark contrasts that the yellow moments of power bring.
Although some of its most pulse-pounding moments are held back by frustrating depth-of-field and lighting issues, Little Nightmares 2 is a cinematic, more action-packed take on the formula. While some of its design issues frustrated me more than the first game, a majority of the changes made are still improvements.