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Little Nightmares, developed by Tarsier Studios and published by Bandai-Namco, was a very pleasant surprise upon its release in 2017. While Playdead had gained notoriety for Limbo and Inside, few studios had attempted to capture the same essence of those brilliant titles. Little Nightmares not only managed to do just that, it did so while also frightening players with a stark message on society. Nearly four years later, the sequel manages to outshine the already brilliant original in nearly every way.
In Little Nightmares 2 you take the role of Mono, a compassionate boy, frightened by the world around him. Six (the original game’s protagonist) returns, and throughout the title you will work together to overcome obstacles, conquer challenges, and stay alive.
The structure of Little Nightmares 2 is very similar to the first. The game plays out in chapters which each feature a core theme, and a main antagonist. As with the original, the antagonists are grossly disfigured representations of adults who you must avoid detection from at all-costs. To do so you will run, hide, climb, and puzzle-solve your way through a variety of gloomy environments. I found the antagonists in each level to be even more unsettling than the first, particularly the school teacher in the game’s second chapter. Each provides a sense of uneasiness while merely being in their presence, and even though you can immediately respawn should one get you (and they will), it still manages to make you tense each time.
While the tone of the environments themselves may be gloomy, the attention to detail paid to each them is truly impressive. With games of this nature, scene framing becomes incredibly important. In many ways, it’s what elevated Inside to the pedestal it still rests upon today. I venture to say, Little Nightmares 2 may have taken its place. Every single scene, from nearly every angle, feels as though it was honed precisely to fit that moment in the game. I often found myself staring in awe, or verbally gasping at what was presented in front of me.
The levels themselves are finely crafted and feature more depth this time around. In some instances there will be avenues you can take which are not immediately apparent, and the game manages to feel larger in scope because of it. Puzzle solving is very similar to the first game, and while I didn’t find any of the puzzles overwhelmingly challenging, some will make you think for a few moments. Often times the solution is simpler than you originally realize, which leaves you feeling less than intelligent as you progress to the next scene.
Further accentuating the level design are lighting and physics engines that have seemingly evolved from the first game. The lighting is not only haunting and beautiful, but also manages to obscure secrets, while still guiding the player and highlighting points of interest. This is not an easy task in a framed, two-dimensional game but Tarsier Studios manages it beautifully. Meanwhile, objects throughout the environment carry weight and behave realistically as you would expect. You will find yourself moving and throwing objects, and often working in tandem to manipulate items around you. Little Nightmares 2 also introduces a few simple combat scenes which require the player to be alert and have just the right timing. With each of these aspects, the animations are fluid, realistic, and carry momentum. Particle effects, from dust, to shattered wood, to smoke and ash are rendered gorgeously. While each of these aspects may be small individually, it’s the sum of their parts that results in something truly special occurring on the screen.
I often talk extensively about sound design in games as I feel it’s imperative to provide games with impact. Fortunately Little Nightmares 2 doesn’t disappoint due to another excellent effort from Composer Tobias Lilja. The simple but memorable theme from the original returns, along with additional tracks that feel as though they were plucked directly from the recesses of your childhood mind. Each of the tracks plays an ominous role in coordination with the game’s framing, thus ramping up tension at key moments. Directional sound is also employed to guide the player and at times, even frighten them into action. It’s just another aspect that heightens the overall experience.
As with the original, Little Nightmares 2 has a story to tell that’s not immediately apparent. Environmental story-telling takes the lead here, and as with the first game, the ending is a shocking culmination of scenes that you will ponder long after you’ve turned the game off. While specific frames during my playthrough made me stare in awe as I noted above, the imagery presented during the ending froze me in time. The commentary it provides on society, adulthood, social media, friendship, and more, is astonishing. The fact that Little Nightmares 2 manages to provide all of that context with no narrative is a magnificent achievement. And as with any good story-telling, each player will make associations and connections to their own personal experiences.
You don’t need to have played the first game to enjoy Little Nightmares 2. However, it absolutely adds to the experience as there are references you may not otherwise understand. There are two types of collectibles to discover on your journey, hats and glitching remains. While the hats are straightforward and simply allow you to customize Mono’s appearance, the glitching remains are more notable. Each highlights some sort of scene, with a few being more complex and even referencing the original game.
I haven’t stopped thinking about Little Nightmares 2 since I finished it. And immediately upon finishing it, colleagues and friends were just as excited as me to discuss their thoughts on it. It’s a game that is not only expertly designed, but has a meaningful impact. It’s a joy to play. It makes you think. It’s a game that sets out to achieve something very specific, and it does so in magnificent fashion. This one will sit with me for some time and more than anything, I hope Bandai-Namco and Tarsier Studios continue with the franchise in the future.