The dreams in which I’m dying are the best I’ve ever had.
Little Nightmares’ release intrigued a player base coming off the heels of similar experiences in Limbo and Inside with its deeper descent into the macabre in genuinely nightmarish fashion. Focusing on a purer form of horror, while maintaining the dialogue-free, environmental storytelling, Little Nightmares was a grisly compliment to the puzzle-platforming-adventure genre. Little Nightmares II continues its course with a new main protagonist, holding true to its creepy roots, all while diversifying its puzzle mechanics in a similar fashion to Unravel 2, where progression is made through the use of the first title’s yellow-coat-wearing lead as your partner-in-crime. Some repetitious difficulty and a bit of clunkiness bother just enough to get on your nerves, but even so, it isn’t close to enough to dwindle away at the top-notch world on display in Little Nightmares II.
In a series of quirky heroes, Little Nightmares II follows suit with its paper-bag-wearing protagonist, Mono. Another small child, like Six from the original, Mono must also discover what has gone wrong in this world, while making his way towards a monolithic tower in the distance that is drawing in crowds of transformed monsters. Constantly escaping capture and certain death, the duo moves through iconically creepy settings on their way to enlightenment—whether a happy-ending or tragic tale. Much like the first release, Little Nightmares II perfects telling a story environmentally, where the goings-on around you reveal all you need to know about why things are the way they are, as well as what could be coming down the line. While crafting an effective story without dialogue is certainly an art, Little Nightmares II leaves a lot to interpretation, which means coming away from characters you’ve invested a lot of time into with many questions, whether you like it or not.
As you make your way through this 3D-side-scrolling hellscape, you’ll encounter puzzles that need to be solved in order to continue progressing. These generally include levers, switches, and the like that must be triggered in order to open a door or power up an elevator. To boil it down, the puzzle aspect comes into play while trying to decipher how to access said levers and buttons. Whether done through platforming across precarious heights, utilizing items around you, or a combination of several actions, that is the overall gist of it. A wrench is thrown into this cycle when you also have some mutilated corpse-monster chasing after you, which slides hiding and stealth mechanics into the equation.
Most of a playthrough with Little Nightmares II will feel primarily like a stealth-focused title. Simply running through sections of the map rarely works, forcing you to slow down and really try to solve the situation with the mechanics around you. At times, sprinting will be necessary, and outside of one brutally difficult, combat-heavy section, you’ll be utilizing evasion at all costs. Your small size plays into this mechanic, allowing you to simply run under tables or behind boxes to keep out of the line of sight of the giant antagonists.
Between the movement, platforming, and puzzle-solving, you have the makings of a perfect complement to the incredible world-building on offer in Little Nightmares II. However, some clunkiness and difficulty make these portions of the game feel pretty frustrating at times. First of all, due to your size in an otherwise large world around you and the side-view perspective, jumps can often be missed simply due to a lack of proper placement. Your jump is also limited in distance. Little Nightmares II is obviously not a platformer first-and-foremost leading to barely missing jumps that look possible.
Combat, though used infrequently, is often a bummer due to the speed at which enemies are coming at you. While an enemy sprinting at you increases the fear-factor, this can lead to regularly mistiming swings. While it’s super cool to smash some of the baddies encountered in Little Nightmares II, it doesn’t pair well with the way that saving and progression works. Specifically, an auto-save system keeps track of your progression through Little Nightmares II, where successfully making it to the next section saves your previous actions, much like other titles. What can get frustrating about the way Little Nightmares II works is that oftentimes these sections are rather long, which can mean a death can send you backward through a good portion of gameplay.
With the negative mechanics outlined above, you can see that simple mistakes in perspective can cause accidental falls, long combat-heavy sections can be tough to properly time with one-hit kills taking your character out, and puzzles with some difficulty can be failed simply by stepping out from cover too soon. Now, just so I’m abundantly clear, these portions of the game add to the anxiety and fear the title is trying to encapsulate, and most of the time this doesn’t get to the point of frustrating as failing a few times while learning your way around isn’t an issue at all. Things just go too far in certain situations where deaths can happen too easily and perfection is necessary in order to complete the section in front of you. Over the course of my eight hours or so playing through Little Nightmares II, this may have taken up twenty or thirty minutes of my time, but it hurts in a similar way to some of the hyper-difficult experiences on the market today, without Little Nightmares II trying to be one of them.
Running surprisingly well for a game with so much detail, Little Nightmares II is a grand Switch port, even with the small amount of extra graininess to it. Only rarely dropping frames, this version keeps you moving along nicely while also looking fantastic. Even if the drab and dreary settings equally invoke a more negative feel. On top of that, the soundtrack plays well into that morose experience happening around you.
Little Nightmares II successfully creates a series of titles that pair up splendidly. Through masterful environmental storytelling and world-building, Tarsier Studios steps up to the likes of Limbo and Inside to invoke a creepy, horror experience that will force its way into your memories. Even with some frustrating sequences and some perspective clunkiness, Little Nightmares II gets a helping hand with all the other ways it exemplifies the genre.