February 18, 2021 — The 2017 release of Little Nightmares was a critical success. With players guiding protagonist Six through harrowing, side-scrolling levels, grotesque enemies, and well-designed puzzles. Now, Swedish developer Tarsier Studios looks to build on this formula with this sequel.
Featuring a new playable character named Mono, as he solves puzzles and sneaks past horrifying enemies alongside the returning Six. Little Nightmares II features many improvements over the first game, but also a few caveats.
The Visual Terror of Little Nightmares
The first noticeable improvement over its’ predecessor is in the visual presentation. Tarsier has perfected their art style and lighting in particular, with rays filtering through the trees in the opening woodland section, and torchlight eerily bouncing off surfaces (illuminating surprisingly detailed dust particles) later on. A clear focus has been made to increase the overall depth of any given scene. Although still firmly a side-scroller, the player has the ability at multiple points to explore far more in all directions. An increased draw distance combined with this greatly heightens the sense of overwhelming scale and dread. As the feeling of being watched from afar plays on your mind as you progress. The sound design is also excellent here. The music bringing with it a sense of foreboding, something particularly strong in the first minutes of the game.
Level design is also excellent, with nothing feeling recycled or stale by the end. The use of varied locations from woodland to a hospital results in many different enemy types and puzzle scenarios. With the first installment largely set on a ship, The Maw, adding welcomed variety. This approach offers a fresh and varied color palette that is extremely engaging. Setting it apart from other dark side scrollers, such as Limbo and Inside.
Playing with Madness
There is one problem, however. The aforementioned visual depth to the world does make it difficult at times to successfully line up a jump or avoid falling from a plank, the game not lining up the two elements quite right. This can be particularly frustrating. Especially towards the end of the game where more tense, frantic scenes integrate with the more intricate platforming and puzzle sections. Although offset by well-placed checkpoints, this can result in some rather cheap deaths.
“Six is helpful and responsive, often giving you clues on what to do next, and smoothly transitioning to the next position in which to help Mono. With the player able to call whenever you need her attention. Or make her follow in the event that she lags behind.”
Despite this problem, utilizing the skills of Six results in puzzles that are greatly enhanced in general. Focusing largely on working together. It may be justifiably assumed, such is so often the case, that the AI would frustrate rather than aid the player, but that is thankfully not the case here. Six is helpful and responsive, often giving you clues on what to do next, and smoothly transitioning to the next position in which to help Mono. With the player able to call whenever you need her attention. Or make her follow in the event that she lags behind. Puzzles are generally varied and much tougher than the previous Little Nightmares. Solutions are not always as plausible as the first game, however, with a few feeling quite convoluted by comparison.
Another improvement over the original experience is the addition of new mechanics and other elements. With the addition of light combat sections, a torch, and the ability to traverse portals later on. There is a satisfying crunch to the combat which, while simplistic looking at first, requires timing to pull off successfully. Stealth situations are more fleshed out, and there is a greater number of unique enemies to get past. Culminating in a more traditional final boss of sorts, these new and improved features come together to create an enjoyable experience to play.
Overall then, Little Nightmares II is a fantastic game and boasts improvements in many areas over its predecessor. While there are some frustrating moments, the fresh additions to the gameplay and striking visual quality keep players interested throughout the approximately six-hour story. Tarsier Studios have approached this title with confidence, with the sense of tension and dread maintained throughout the entire experience. This is a developer who truly understands this franchise and genre as a whole. Eyes will undoubtedly now be on the studio for what they do with the inevitable next chapter of the Little Nightmares franchise, and they will surely deliver.