Fear is a fascinating thing; it’s a primal emotion that affects everyone differently. Reactions to fear range from subtle to outright extreme, and what’s scary is that we can’t really control them. I don’t like being scared, personally, but I’m absolutely captivated by the idea of horror and will occasionally play a game that tries to capture it. A recent contender is Tarsier Studios’s Little Nightmares 2, the sequel to the original from four years ago. With a cute modifier in front of a terrifying concept, the nightmares you face in this game are everything but little. However, the real question is if the thrill of fear can hold your attention long enough for these nightmares reach their conclusion.
Why Can’t You Sleep?
Subtlety and fear of the unknown are key elements in the most effective horror games. The less information you have about a scenario, the more frightening it seems to be. The mind is a powerful and dangerous thing that can conjure the most horrifying ideas with minimal prompting. Little Nightmares captured that phenomenon well, and so does its sequel. You play as a young boy named Mono who awakens due to a strange broadcasting signal. While trying to follow its source, he comes across a young girl named Six who joins his adventure. Together, the two attempt to track down the signal and do whatever it takes to stay alive. It’s a setup that makes you want to keep going just because you hope it ends well for the pair.
The Vivid Moments
Little Nightmare 2 does an excellent job of creating a frightening atmosphere, and one key element is audio. Sound plays an important role here, and music is quite rare. Every sound you hear adds to your experience and really creates a constant feeling of danger. There’s never an area in the game where you feel safe, and that motivates you to keep going. When music does appear, it’s loud and dramatic to add to the tension of an already tense situation.
Then there’s the overall feeling of the game and controls. The more real a character feels in a horror game, the greater the sense of helplessness. The reason for this is because real people rarely do well in scary situations. Mono’s size and the way he moves really emphasizes the point that he’s a small child all alone in terrifying world. He moves very cautiously, and even his sprinting speed never feels fast enough. Climbing and pushing objects is a constant struggle that feels worse when you’re trying to get away. All of this adds together to create a very fragile character that you want to help succeed.
The overall design of the game works on multiple levels. It’s a game that uses what I like to call the creepy-cute style: Blending big, smooth shapes and distorting them until they’re horrifying. Distortion is one of the game’s main themes, which comes through in sound and almost every other being you come across. Plus, each chapter has its own feel to it and makes use of movement mechanics in different ways. The design makes finding the way forward possible without making it seem like the game is holding your hand. Exploration is done at your own risk as you try to find method to the madness.
Finally, there’s the overall mystery. Although there is a main story to the game, there are many questions that never get an answer. Facts about the main characters, enemies, and locations are left up to interpretation. If you reveal everything about a horror story, then it ceases to be scary, and LN2 leaves plenty in the dark.
The Blurry Bits
Unfortunately, some of the fear and anxiety caused by Little Nightmares 2 are the result of frustrating game mechanics, such as the game’s trial-and-error system. Similar to games like Limbo, this one incorporates a lot of sudden deaths and unclear events. While this can give a sudden shock the first time, it becomes frustrating and tedious the more it happens. The unknown element does add to the sense of horror, but the swathe of vague and unexpected perils really slow down gameplay.
Then there’s the combat. Many folks tout the authenticity of the sloppy fighting in the Silent Hills series, but at least those games give you a health-bar and option to retreat. In LM2, there are several moments where you have to clumsily fight enemies that are faster and stronger than you. Your attack is so slow and directional that if you make one mistake, you’re dead, and you’ll have to start the sequence all over again. This feels like a big change from the first game which only has larger, sequence-style encounters making it unfamiliar. And since your only choice is to succeed or die, combat quickly becomes annoying rather than scary.
The smallest but perhaps most irritating problems in LM2 are its technical issues. There were several moments where I had to interact with a crucial item, but the game wouldn’t let me. During some sprinting segments, I got caught on walls or objects that I couldn’t even see. Small issues like this kept slowing down progress, and nothing hurts an experience more than failing parts of a game because of unexpected technical issues.
Before You Wake
Little Nightmares 2 is not a game to play if you want to sleep well. It’s frightening, intense, and disturbing, despite its somewhat cute graphics. Still, facing your fears can sometimes be the best feeling. This game creates a lot of fear to overcome, and you have everything at your disposal to do so. There are a few roadblocks that may slow you down, but getting past them makes victory all the sweeter.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10
This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Little Nightmares 2 is now available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Google Stadia, and PC via Steam.