The original Little Nightmares game was a masterclass in delivering a style of terror that twists your primal fears around its little finger. Is there a monster under the bed, following you up the stairs or tapping on the window pain, just waiting to drag you into the abyss feet first? In the case of the sleeper-hit horror title, yes, there is. Little Nightmares II is a game that's grown up a bit from its predecessor, but absolutely compounds on that paralysing fear of things that go bump in the night.
Developers Tarsier Studios give us a glimpse into the wider series universe as we travel with our new protagonist, Mono, who must accompany Six (the protagonist of the first game) through a series of dilapidated and haunting locales that, by their very nature, play on those same puerile fears: a school, a hospital, and a forest to name a few. Whereas in previous games we've only seen the atrocious innards of The Maw and The Nest, this game shows us the hellish, taciturn wider world our characters live in.
Six is now your AI companion, and the two of you work together to figure out a series of relatively straightforward but gruesomely fun puzzles. There's a kinship between the pair, and you can shout tersely to each other with the tap of a button - giving a series' first in voiced (albeit minimally) characters. The game's story is hidden in the macabre surroundings and isn't served to you on a silver platter, so there's plenty for lore-lovers to dig into. But it's also enjoyable if you're happy to just amble through the six- or seven-hour playtime, taking it all at face value. Perhaps amble isn't the right word, though - even those who boast a strong tolerance for scares will have their work cut out sneaking through the five sweat-inducing chapters teeming with towering monstrosities that must be circumnavigated.
It's within these enemies that Little Nightmares II, like its forebear, really shines. Each chapter brings with it a new abomination of a foe that sucks your attention toward them like a black hole. You don't want to look at them, but despite yourself you can't help it. The Teacher, with her serpentine neck and vacant stare, moves with awkward, lumbering steps. Once she spots you, an Earth-stopping screech pierces the game's excellently bleak audio and she moves for you, just quicker than your little legs can make good your escape. Her very presence is enough to put you on edge for 30-45 minutes at a time, and it's wonderful level design that makes each area uniquely memorable.
Death, or at least failure, will come to you quickly and often, and it's one of the very few foibles of the game that your progress is tied so intrinsically to trial and error in some areas. The first couple of times you get spotted in an area is scary, sure - but the fifth, tenth, twentieth time becomes a frustration.
And yet, this is a very small gripe, especially when the game looks as stunning as it does. The lighting especially deserves a special mention for being utterly sublime. As well as drenching areas with an uneasy atmosphere (doubly so when you acquire a flashlight that casts its own liquid beam of hope into the twisted void) it also offers up contextual help with puzzles and often lights the way forward in the game's 2.5D world. It's worth mentioning that we played a PlayStation 4 version of the game on a PlayStation 5, but an optimised next-gen update is planned for 2021 which will feature reduced loading times and better resolution.
Of the new features, perhaps the most encouraging is the inclusion of short sections of combat. Mono can occasionally pick up a heavy weapon and swing it at certain enemies, such as the creepy clay children in the School chapter. While it's not particularly challenging or ground-breaking, it does require some degree of timing to get right, and forces you to sharpen your awareness to land the hit or else restart from the nearest checkpoint. Thankfully, the checkpoint system is more than generous, and you're only ever a few moments from your previous run's progress.
Once the final credits roll there's still enough to warrant a second playthrough. While the story does conclude, you'll want to head back into the game's chapters in search of anything you missed. There's 12 hats to collect, glitching ghosts of dead children to find (which will give you a special surprise if you uncover them all) and your own curiosity to satiate by re-exploring areas.
Little Nightmares II does everything you'd expect of a sequel. It sticks closely to the grimy winning formulae of Little Nightmares, while improving on it in key areas. It's clear that Tarsier Studios know what makes their players tick and delivers it to them in festering bucketloads. Everything from the game's story, to the claustrophobic atmosphere it creates combine into an incredibly compelling package that is a must play for horror lovers everywhere.
Pros: properly uncomfortable in places, every part as good as the original game, if not better
Cons: mildly frustrating trial and error sections
For fans of: Little Nightmares, Inside, Silent Hill
Little Nightmares II is released for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on February 11th, and later in 2021 for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Review code for PlayStation 4 was provided by Bandai Namco. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
Featured Image Credit: Bandai Namco/ Tarsier Studios
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