Title: Little Nightmares II
Developer: Tarsier Studios
Release Date: February 11, 2021
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Genre: Horror Adventure
Some horror games attempt to be more effective by making players feel defenseless and in a constant state of adrenaline. While others may offer item management and weapons, they may become too overpowered, limiting the scares’ impact. Developer Tarsier Studios does something completely new with Little Nightmares II’s horror themes by balancing them with puzzle-like systems based on creative environment interaction. The outcome is a horrific experience, unlike anything I’ve played.
Little Nightmares II stars a new protagonist named Mono, whose first goal is to save Six, the protagonist of the first game. The developers focus heavily on the user throughout the entire game as they introduce a small taste of their puzzles and then test your skills with some tougher encounters. This is seen early on as you avoid traps and navigate the environment. There’s an emphasis on exploration, but the overall direction is clearly defined, making it difficult to get lost, so there’s no need to try and brute force your way through any events.
The story is completely silent, and the two characters interact through grunts, but there is a narrative here. Evidently, a tower is sending out a signal putting the inhabits of this city into a trance. The two characters’ goal is to put a stop to it, but the one causing the signal is hot on their trail. This narrative is pieced together between major levels, but much of the finer points are left up to the player. Still, Mono and Six’s relationship has some really high points, such as when they were almost crushed, and the game took a second to show an animation of them just staring at each other. It was as if they were surprised they even survived and glad they were both all right in that one scene—many moments like this lead to a twisted and shocking conclusion.
The gameplay is mostly puzzle-based, where each major stage has a few unique elements, such as using light to stop enemies or traveling between televisions. These puzzles are generally rather linear, with only a few ways to solve them and very little room for error. If an enemy spots you, they will attack, but there are ways you can escape. However, getting caught is so bad since the team is exceptionally liberal with their checkpoints. The puzzles are clever and build on difficulty throughout the entire game. Still, I’d say it’s on the more casual side to the point where any gamer could get through the game regardless of their experience with the genre. It’s mostly a matter of trial-and-error.
Control is important in Little Nightmares II, but it does take some adjusting. Considering the size of Mono, items carry a different weight to them. In the case of some of the weapons, timing has to adjust when swinging them as some are heavier than others. This was only an issue when attempting to hit some of the more nimble enemies. The game also loves its chase scenes, and you’ll encounter many of them here. These moments require you to be alert to the changing environment in front of you, but it can feel like no matter what you do, the enemy will be at your heels the entire time, which caused me a few heart attacks.
Surprisingly, adding a second character to the adventure worked exceptionally well. The two characters each took up responsibilities when solving puzzles without any real guidance. It is possible to call out to Six, but she typically did whatever I needed without asking. I also enjoyed how she interacted in certain rooms. Little things like picking up a toy to play with or helping with a puzzle were just some of the ways that she pulls her weight through this adventure.
Sometimes running wasn’t as responsive as I would have liked, which caused issues during late-game puzzles. However, I think the only area this game lacks is in exploration and what objects Mono can and can’t interact with. There’s no clear identifier, but the game knows how to lock you out of going anywhere you aren’t supposed to be. I would have enjoyed a little more freedom in the rooms to break up the linear progression. Still, there are collectible to be found in the form of new hats and glitched characters.
Graphically, Little Nightmares II is a dream, or a nightmare, depending on how you see it. The lighting is incredible as the developers uniquely used the color black to guide players in the right direction. The world is exceptionally depressing yet, beautiful at times, as seen when the two characters are running in the rain. There is just some excellent design work here, and I feel like the QA team here played a big part in making sure these puzzles were user friendly and timed well.
Sound design is an absolute masterpiece, and music is put on hold for many parts of the adventure. Sometimes the only thing heard is the noise Mono and Six are making, which is often unnerving because you don’t want to bring any attention to them. During my game, I did encounter some event flags that didn’t seem to trigger, such as a trashcan lid not closing, but thanks to checkpoints, I was able to load back into the game, which fixed everything.
Little Nightmares II is easily going to be one of the best games of 2021. Its horror themes weigh on the player throughout the entirety of the adventure to a climax that will leave you breathless. Pacing through the various puzzles creates a nice balance of linear game design and subtle exploration. It’s a game that anyone can get through if they can stand to be scared a little, but the trial-and-error approach makes it an easy recommendation to gamers of all skill levels.
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