I finished Little Nightmares II with so many questions swimming around in my head. These weren’t questions about the story as such, but about the world around me. How do I view my own existence? Do I appreciate the things I have or the life I live? Will I ever understand the mysteries of our ever-changing lives or the terrifying step away from this mortal coil? Its story is a deeply philosophical case study, presented in rich imagery and profound silences, encased in a nightmare masquerading as a reality. It’s a phenomenal video game, but it is so much more than that.
If you were to stay away from the internet, you’d have no idea what Little Nightmares II is about. There is no text or dialogue. Names of the characters never appear. Nothing is explained to you, and this is how it should be. You start off playing as a young boy lost in the woods, carefully finding your way as you avoid pitfalls and bear traps, swinging from ropes and outrunning a crazed woodsman with a shotgun. You’re filled with panic and an uneasy sense of what is to come. It is here you meet up with the girl from the first game. After becoming acquainted, you evade the huntsman and travel across an unwelcoming and sometimes terrifying world.
I ran away from an abusive teacher, an overweight physician, mischievous children wearing cracked porcelain masks, and the elusive and mysterious man wearing a suit. These encounters made up many of the most unsettling moments in Little Nightmares II, but I saw a lot of images that left me feeling nauseous and uncomfortable. Not because they were gratuitous or crude, but because they were strikingly honest and real. Halfway through there was a section where I was walking across a rooftop as five men were stood on the edge of a building. As I ran past them, they gradually fell from the ledges, killing themselves one by one.
In this one scene I realised just how special Little Nightmares II is. Ultimately it is trying to tell a story about friendship triumphing in the dark, but at the same time it is reflecting real life. It is highlighting the hardships of twenty-first century survival, our reliance on media to entertain, and an ignorance to forming bonds outside our respective bubbles. I may be looking too far into the subtext weaving behind the narrative, but I found catharsis in what was happening elsewhere. It caused me to see things in my own life and the world around me that I had chosen to ignore or pay little attention to. It forced me to open my eyes.
There is so much beauty in Little Nightmares II. From the nightmarish creatures to the beams of light emanating from my flashlight, the finer details are what draw you in. Set pieces involving bright purple doorways provide appreciated flecks of colour, but the locations like the hospital and the apartments are designed so stunningly, swallowing you up and allowing you to become completely enamoured by it. Some of the things you have to do to survive are grim to say the least, but even then it looks so alluring.
Another fine element to Little Nightmares II’s appeal is the music. The melodies are emotionally overwhelming at times, especially during the poignant moments involving the two children. When death is staring you in the face, or you’re running away from a gruesome threat, the score does everything it possibly can to rip your nerves to shreds. Even the sound effects are worth a mention, especially when it comes to the squelching of blood or the convulsing of flesh, and the contorting of necks or the blasts of a gun.
The gameplay, which of course plays a massive role in Little Nightmares II, is great, but there were times when I missed a jump or plunged to my death because the movement wasn’t quite in tune with what my mind wanted the boy to do. The puzzles themselves are fantastic. There is a lot of variety in how they can be solved, and the studio has done a great job at utilising the environments. You might struggle with a couple, but generally they are easy to work out. My main concern is with some of the encounters. The panic doesn’t help, but sometimes you need pinpoint accuracy to escape being grabbed or swallowed up. The factory was one of the only chapters I truly struggled with, but I had to pause and reflect countless times throughout the game.
Despite the few problems, Little Nightmares II is still the best game I’ve played this year. Yes, we’re only in February, but I feel it might take something big to top this as 2021 rolls on. I was affected by the story in ways the developer may not have expected, but that’s games for you. Much like music and cinema, games can be subjective. Whilst I would recommend this on the gameplay and presentation alone, there is something beyond the surface that resonated with me.
Little Nightmares II tells a beautiful yet fragile story of friendship, sadness, and searching for the light in the darkness. The puzzles are well-designed, the music is stunning, and the visuals are on another level. It surpasses the original in every way, not just in how it looks or plays, but in the way the horror hits a lot closer to home that I ever could’ve imagined. It goes without saying, but Tarsier’s follow-up is a work of passion and poetry, always asking you to look not just at what’s behind the television screen, but at what’s in front of it as well.
Subtle yet profound story
Varied and well-designed puzzles
Issues with jumping
Some encounters are difficult to get past