I’m going to coin a term right now: Little Nightmares II is another entry in the genre of game I like to call the CreePlatformer. A 2D light puzzle platformer where the majority of the experience is driven by the setting and the atmosphere rather than the gameplay. It might seem like I’m selling the game a bit short… but I’ll get into it as this post goes on.
In the same vein as games from Playdead (Limbo and Inside), the Little Nightmares franchise is a very striking video game to look at, carried almost entirely by its visual design and incredibly effective sense of horror.
Developers by Tarsier Studios, Little Nightmares II follows on from the 2017 predecessor in which players took control of a little girl only known as Six as she made her way through a terrifying ship known as the Maw. Six returns in the sequel (Prequel?) as a companion NPC as players take control of Mono, a young boy with a bag over his head.
As with the first game, Little Nightmares II relies on minimal visual hud clutter on the screen and keeps its gameplay simple and easy to interpret. Using simple platforming, stealth and exploration, the player guides Mono into and then through the Pale City; a warped and unsettling metropolis that almost seems to have undergone some kind of rapture. With empty clothes strewn about the place and the only signs of remaining life being grotesque imitations of out reality.
This aspect of the game really is the thing drawing the player in. On its own, the gameplay is painfully simplistic, consisting of platforming challenges and environmental puzzle solving. Where this game shines the most is in how it looks, how it sounds and in how it almost makes you think it feels. Whereas it felt like the world of the first game was warped and grotesque, the second game seems much more unsettling in comparison.
The creatures you encountered in the first game felt like they were born of excess, disgusting results of gluttony unrestrained. Here, it feels like the monsters you run and fight against are something else, almost as if they’re the remnants of a society left behind, not living themselves, but inanimate objects pretending they’re the living.
This comes across from one of the game’s first areas, a school house in which both the pupils and the sole teacher all seem to be made of porcelain, their faces permanently frozen within horrible smiles. And the one following where partially assembled mannequins start to chase you around. I could pretend to glean some deeper message behind the world of this game and the monsters that dwell within, but if I’m honest I’m not sure there really is some underlying moral to this tale.
I think the developers at Tarsier just wanted to make a cool, unsettling looking world that makes your skin crawl. And in that regard, they succeed fantastically. There is this claymation look to the world and its inhabitants, one that perpetually feels like it would be damp to the touch. It all creates this fantastic atmosphere the first time you enter an area. An atmosphere that ends up losing some of its effectiveness by the time you encounter one of the more challenging gameplay segments.
In part due to the game’s minimal approach to how it teaches its players mechanics, coupled with the lack of any kind of hud of on-screen dialogue, sometimes it can end up feeling a little frustrating executing on what the game wants you to do in order to process. With no visual markers on objects in the world, you can interact within some particular way, sometimes the solution to a particular puzzle can end up eluding you. Till you feel like an idiot for spotting and missing something so obvious.
Where the game ended up frustrating me the most were the actual action and precision dependant segment, parts where you need to outrun a particular crawling dread beast or when you have to fend off porcelain dolls using a weight, oversized hammer. The second example of which becomes particularly annoying when the hammer has such a long windup and the full 360-degree movement makes missing your target far easier than it needs to be.
While ‘frustration’ might be a tad strong a word to describe these sections of the game, they are by far the weakest part of it. The parts where you know exactly what it is the game is requiring of you, but executing within the game’s own less than precise rules ends up being an exercise in tedium, having just to get your aim and your timing right three times in a row before you can move onto the next segment of the game.
It might seem a bit strange, criticising a game that requires you to play it. But that really is just a testament to how good and atmospheric the world and moving through it is. As I’ve iterated multiple times before, this is a game driven by its atmosphere.
Little Nightmares II is a nice, short little experience, building on the slight mechanics of the first game, with only slight additions. While there is some greater story to explore here and what exactly this game’s placement is in relation tot he first one, at the end of the day, this is a cool, creepy horror experience. Mashing up the childlike characters and setting with the very unnerving series of set pieces and environments.
If you like the creepy puzzle platformers like Limbo and Inside, then you should probably go and play one of those, they’re great games. But Little Nightmares II is no slouch and at around six hours it’s a nice little indie experience that do you good if you’re a bit of a horror junkie.