We play games for escapism - especially in today’s global situation. The art of losing ourselves in a world far different from our own, no matter how horrifying, provides us with a reprieve. Little Nightmares II is built around that idea and deploys its theme of escapism both literally and metaphorically. The result? A sequel which is bigger and grander than its processor.
Narratively, the story picks up after the events of Little Nightmares, but places you in the shoes of a new protagonist, Mono, who scurries around the game’s environments with a brown paper bag on their head. Is it to hide their identity? Or maybe to escape the horrors in the world surrounding them? The ambiguity of it all allows you to pull as much from Little Nightmares II as you wish to put in. Sure, you can simply view it as a standard puzzle platformer, but scratch beneath the surface and you can begin distinguishing meanings across the world’s terrifying landscape.
Unlike the first game, you’re not alone, as the protagonist from Little Nightmares known as Six also accompanies you for the majority of the time. While not directly playable, her addition manages to add something more nuanced. Certain puzzles require both your strength and might to complete, such as being hoisted over a large gap, or dragging a larger object across the room to advance. But what works more brilliantly is how Six naturally works within the world. Occasionally, you may be stuck on a puzzle to which Six will subtly hint towards the direction to take. She may stand and look down a lift shaft, or jump to try and pick up an object. The subtle, yet effective visual cues work wonderfully to resist breaking immersion and nudge you in the right direction.
Having Six accompany you also adds some emotional weight. Not a single word is spoken between Mono and Six, yet you feel a duty to protect her - especially after the events of the first game. You can take her hand and escort her through the world, or allow her to walk alongside you at her own pace. Six may even interact with the environment while you solve another puzzle, playing with toys in a children's play room, or sitting idly by the fire to warm her hands. The best moments come when the interactions between you both and the world are discovered, relieving the tension from the game's more gruesome segments.
Exploring the world with Six is an absolute visual treat. Building upon from the first game, Little Nightmares II expands into more extravagant settings, allowing the art direction to be really playful and the creators to draw much inspiration from horror cinema. From foreboding school corridors filled with traps, to dimly lit hospital rooms where you could hear a pin drop, the sheer variety of locales never ceases to give up. Without spoiling anything, the final hour of the game is an absolute bombardment on your visual senses in all the best ways, delivering some of the game's best moments.
Venturing through each of the five levels is a rollercoaster ride, jumping from one terrifying set piece to the next. At the heart of these areas are some of the most nightmarish creations ever seen in gaming, drawing inspirations from horror films such as The Ring and Poltergeist. Honestly, some of these images will remain with us with how truly creative and creepy they are. Little Nightmares II starts with a thrilling chase sequence from an enemy known as The Hunter and introduces a new antagonist in each level. The Teacher is a particular stand out, a devilish being who is able to stretch her neck to an exceptional length and seek you out under every nook and cranny. It's a grotesque level of body horror that feels like it was plucked straight out of David Cronenberg movie and works to keep every level feeling fresh.
Perhaps one drawback for these set pieces is how finely tuned the set pieces are, and by that we mean how much the game demands of you. There's little room for error, and every jump, climb and environmental challenge feels like it has to be solved in the way the developer intended. As a result, this can often lead to some truly frustrating 'trial and error' moments, where there's a lack of feeling as though the objective was completed organically. In a large portion of situations, the high stake moments feel like there's a reliance on remembering the level layout and pushing just a little bit further on each attempt. This is none more prevalent than in the school level, which throws numerous traps your way, and are extremely well hidden. What should be the most tense and exhilarating moments of the game can result in being roadblocks, bringing you out of the experience.
The same can be said for Little Nightmares II's new emphasis on combat. Unlike the first game, certain situations will allow you to fight back against some of the foes in the world and the results are not great. When toe-to-toe with enemies, you have to quickly scavenge the world for an item such as a hammer or ladle to defend yourself with. The act of quickly scurrying to find an item can truly be intense, but not as scary as how infuriating the combat can be. Each encounter requires perfect timing of your swings towards enemies, which for the most part are agile. If you miss, you'll be jumped on and be forced to retry the sequence again. Some combat encounters can put forward four to five enemies at once, meaning you have to perfect each swipe or face the consequences. The handling of weapons feels so clunky and Little Nightmares II places you in plenty of these unavoidable situations.
It's unfortunate that there are moments like these that bring you out of the experience. Luckily, the game focuses up within the final few hours and quality of life improvements in other areas help to streamline the experience. The controls feel tightened in the platforming and climbing, throwing items to hit buttons has a better degree of aim assist, and the level design cleverly points you in the right direction. Over the course of the the five to six hour long campaign, it always felt as though Little Nightmares II was impressively building to grander things.
Little Nightmares II is bigger and bolder, which builds upon the foundations from the first game. The game is host to a disgusting, decaying world that opens up as you progress through each chapter. Its inhabitants will haunt your dreams for days and the emotional connection it draws between Mono and Six with absolutely no dialogue is powerful. It is worth noting that certain combat encounters and high stakes moments can become troublesome and do provide occasional road blocks which prevent the game from reaching its full potential. As it stands though, Little Nightmares II is a thrill ride filled with visually striking moments of pure nightmare fuel, which may invite you to leave your lamp on for the foreseeable future.