We all know the sinking horror of dreaming about being stuck back in school once again with a maniacal teacher and a forgotten homework project or test. As if those nightly cold sweats weren’t enough, the team at Tarsier Studios have once again brought that nightmarish vision to horrifying life with Little Nightmares 2.
Nightmares Through A Child’s Eyes
Building upon the bizarre world set up in Little Nightmares’ first instalment, Little Nightmares 2 brings together the most monstrous elements and confusing aspects of our common nightmares to visceral fruition as you plunder through the world of the Pale City with Mono and Six, fighting forever merely to survive this nightmare-fuelled journey.
Plundering the Depths of Our Nightmares
From the long-necked teacher to the thin man, the living child porcelain dolls and the hanging slug-like hospital attendant, Little Nightmares feels as though it has been lifted out of some forgotten and twisted concept art for a Studio Ghibli piece. Every element of its art, setting and narrative is brought together brilliantly in this nightmarish ride that does not let up from first to last. While it may be easy to be fooled by the cuter miniature protagonists, Little Nightmares 2 is by no means an easy, child-friendly journey.
Within this puzzle platformer, brutal death awaits around almost every corner for our struggling heroes. Every chapter of the game takes Mono and Six into a new nightmare concept, each with its own distinct monsters and archetypal settings—the school, the abandoned hospital, the desolate city, etc.—with the only goal merely being to find a way to escape.
Fans of the first Little Nightmares will already know how little the overarching narrative is explained or even makes sense. Rather, much like a dream, players are just dropped into these scenarios that unravel around them without explanation—nor is one needed. Tarsier Studios present us merely with a few recurring iconographies and events and ask that we connect the dots ourselves however we choose to interpret what is happening. With the added context of the first Little Nightmares, and upon realizing that first game is, in fact, a prequel, these blurred lines might just become a little easier to connect.
Regardless of whether you can fully understand the story, it is a thrilling and effective one, due mostly to how the two protagonists work and struggle together. These wordless companions have enough character to pull us into their story. Since we all know the sweat of the archetypal nightmares they find themselves in, it is easy to remain invested in their survival. When required to put yourself into a world as ethereal and vanishingly out there as this, that kernel of character investment is vital.
The first Little Nightmares was a competent puzzle platformer that had its frustrations. Fortunately, in Little Nightmares 2, many of those gripes have been expertly smoothed out and refined so as to make this title an incredible platformer. Little Nightmares 2 not only builds upon the strong foundation laid out by the first, it surpasses it. Every chapter grants a new scenario/setting and often new mechanics to learn. Puzzles usually amount to finding a key to a locked door, but within that simple formula there is plenty to get excited about as you swing from puzzle scenarios to stealth to active combat to all-out intense and frightening chases.
The variety of monsters to dodge helps add to the perfect fun of this title, as most require a new strategy to avoid. One particular highlight of Little Nightmares 2 I won’t soon forget is in the hospital with the dilapidated mannequins and their jerky zombie-like movement that puts Mono into a tense fight for survival that would give Joel and Ellie of The Last of Us a run for their money. The relief of escaping every nightmare is palpable after enduring its quite literal horrors.
The only minor gripe I have with this sequel’s gameplay is its few combat sections—a new addition to the series. Though it might be cathartic to finally get your hands on a lead pipe and take the fight back to your nightmarish enemies, the combat system is not well refined and usually ends up just being frustrating and a tad tedious—although maybe I’m just bad at the game; who knows.
Since Mono is so small, working a pipe or bat is a hefty task, so it takes time to complete his swing. Though the awkwardness of this movement makes sense considering the character, it makes landing a blow on your enemies a frustrating task. With all the timing in the world, you’ll still likely find yourself missing them entirely and then quickly being pounced upon and killed, over and over. Fortunately, these sections are sparse enough that they don’t drag the game down too much.
A Perfect Little Package
At its best Little Nightmares 2 is breathtaking and is a nearly perfect 4–5-hour little package. From the narrative to the art, the monsters, the settings, world-building and fragmentary lore, this is an excellent title worthy of its reasonable £25 price.
Tarsier Studios have left plenty here to analyze even within its small packaging. Though each nightmare might seem utterly confusing and altogether ethereal, the commentary of zombie-like adults remaining glued to TV screens, the panicked fear of authority in childhood and the anxiety over growing up and (quite literally) losing and attacking your previous childish ideals and perspectives are all extremely effective.
Little Nightmares 2 gets plenty right in transposing the viscerality, meaning and horror of our nightmares. Its gameplay is strong and its thematic concepts even more so. Maybe within this brave, little package we might all find a reminder that a child’s perspective is perhaps the only true and honest vision of the horrifying world as it truly is.
Little Nightmares 2 is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Stadia.