Platforms: PC (reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X | S
Little Nightmares was a fantastic horror styled puzzle platforming game that tasked you with surviving claymation monstrosities on a floating slaughterhouse. Its sequel Little Nightmares II is more of the same, giving you more player characters, more options, and more environments to run through fearing for your life. However, Little Nightmares 2 is also proof that more doesn’t always equal better. In their quest to somehow evolve on the formula of the first game, they added several mechanics that detract from what made the first so much fun.
The original Little Nightmares was primarily a stealth game with a dash of platforming. You would have to find your way through different sections of a gigantic ship while monstrosities chased you around. Sometimes you had to find hiding spaces in order to sneak your way through. Sometimes you had to simply run, jump, and dodge your way around obstacles to get through a room before they catch you. It was a simple, fun, gameplay loop.
Little Nightmares II wants to add more to this gameplay loop, starting with the introduction of a second character. Here, you play as Mono, a small boy with a bag on his head. You are accompanied by Six, the protagonist from the first game. Six is controlled by the AI and will help you solve puzzles. She is also the most frustrating part of the game.
Remember The Last Guardian, that puzzle platformer where you had to use a griffin to help you solve puzzles? Remember how it bombed because the griffin never did what you told it to do? Little Nightmares II is that same problem all over again.
Six is the most frustrating AI teammate ever. Let’s just give a few examples of frustrating situations that require her help.
Some ledges require Six to boost you up to them. There’s no telling what these ledges are and what is merely an aesthetic part of the scenery that will run you face-first into an invisible wall. Whether or not Six actually runs to the position she needs to be in appears to be random. You can call her to bring her over to your location, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she will get into a position to help you up. This leaves you mashing buttons hoping she will help you out. The same goes for any time she has to help you push or pull something.
By far the most frustrating puzzles are when you have to jump a gap only to grab onto her hand a second before you fall down. You have to do this multiple times and the way it is programmed is not intuitive at all. If you try to jump normally, you won’t make it halfway over most of these jumps, but if Six is on the other side, you’ll suddenly get a boost that gets you all the way across. This means you can’t really intuit which gaps require Six’s assistance until she gets into position and calls for you which, once again, seems kind of random.
But you know, you can get used to this. Give it a few levels and you’ll start getting the patience to wait out Six’s A.I. for the right moments - sometimes it’s even useful. It will pick up random objects, for example, if you need to pick up an object to solve a puzzle. It’s certainly not the worst new mechanics.
Oh, it gets much worse.
Now there’s combat, and Little Nightmares really wasn’t built for combat. Picking up a weapon disables your jump and replaces it with a long, clunky swing. Meanwhile, all the enemies in the game are fast and will pounce on you in a second. Get hit once and you die. Nothing about the combat is fun, nor is it scary. It’s just frustrating and adds a needless level of complexity to a game that should have been based on stealth and puzzles.
The puzzles, oh lord the puzzles are the worst part. The original Little Nightmares always telegraphed its puzzles. You knew when you were going to have to hide. You knew when there were threats. From the very start, you had an idea about how to avoid them. You could formulate a plan and tackle each room one by one.
Not so in Little Nightmares II. The entire game is just one big frustrating practice of trial and error. Threats constantly come at you from off-screen, causing cheap death after cheap death. Once again, this isn’t fun or scary, it’s just frustrating.
At one point in the game, I’m hiding from a teacher with an extended neck. In one room, she seems to not be able to see me if I hide behind objects so I hide behind desks and shelves and make it to the next room. In this room, I have to make a noise by knocking down a bookshelf to continue. This calls her into the room so I hide behind the shelf. She kills me. I try again and hide behind a door. She kills me. Only by hiding in a very specific box was I safe, and the game did nothing to signal that.
Even worse, I had to backtrack through the original room with the desks which once again operated on different rules. Even worse again, I saw the same boxes later in the level and they DIDN’T keep me hidden. I was just plucked out and killed.
That’s how this feels. It feels like the game is always changing the rules on you. One section of the game has you making your way down hallways where Home Alone style rope traps kill you from off-screen if you take it too quickly. So you take it slow, except then a locker falls on you for moving too slow right before a checkpoint… great.
Several times you will be chased by some kind of monstrosity and asked to quickly make your way to the next screen. Then, immediately on the next screen, there is a huge pit, and since you were running at full speed and the screen just transitioned you have no choice but to fall to your death… great.
At one point you are running from a giant hillbilly with a shotgun. Hiding behind crates that dissolve when he shoots at them protects you. However, hiding behind stumps that seem indestructible causes the bullet to go right through it and kill you… great.
It frankly feels like a Kaizo game, like I Wanna Be the Guy or Kaizo Mario or any other ROM hack whose entire purpose is to be unfair. You just die, and repeat, and try to remember why you died, and repeat again, and it continues over, and over, and over. Once again, you never feel scared. You just feel frustrated. But more importantly, you never feel like you are solving puzzles. You never feel like you survived due to your own craftiness or by outsmarting your enemies as you did in the original. You just ram your face into death over and over again until you remember the path to survival via rote memorization.
I had so little fun with Little Nightmares 2, which is a shame because I loved just about everything about it, outside the gameplay. The environment design is amazing. The first game took place on one ship, The Maw. This takes you through numerous locales, from the backwoods to a crumbling city, to a perverse distortion of a school, and more. There is far more variety in the enemies and hazards than there was in the first and you really get a sense of the dark world you live in. The moments when you had to walk through a strange TV dimension were a particularly nice touch.
It’s more focused on narrative this time around. Little Nightmares left a lot up to interpretation, while Little Nightmares II really dives into what’s actually happening to these kids. The mystery kept me playing despite the frustration. It’s actually very impressive that the whole game manages to tell its story without a line of dialogue.
The sound design is fantastic. From the soundtrack to the ambient spookiness I enjoyed every small creek on the floor, every thumping of footsteps in the background. It managed to really keep me on edge and set the tone.
And the graphics are phenomenal. As good as the original looked, this looks ten times better, with its horrendous claymation figures showing up sharp even in the near darkness. It’s a notable step up from the first.
So Little Nightmares II is everything except for a great game, and that’s just disappointing. Have you ever heard the saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it?” Well for some reason Little Nightmares II was fixed until it was no longer a stealth horror game and is now a kaizo style trial and error game, and that sort of gameplay just won’t appeal to the same demographic that loved the first. I, personally, kept playing but only because it was my job. If I had a choice, I probably would have put the controller down in frustration halfway through level one.