This location is too huge for us.
Everything is large, as though we have actually stepped through the glass at the carnival’s hall of mirrors. Doors aren’t entrances, however mouths of caverns. Each action on the staircase is a mini-mountain to scale. Later, when plastic aberrations shuffle in the darkness and you shatter the empty skulls of malicious puppets with a hammer that’s larger than you are, you’ll understand it’s not simply the world that’s too huge, however the threats, too. The scary. The fear. It’s a bleak, damaged location entirely bereft of love and empathy, however filled with frightening things – things that should not exist, not now, never, not even in your most twisted problems.
When we initially fulfilled Six, the small, singular figure of Tarsier Studio’s initially Little Nightmares offering, her world echoed with the flat noises of her lonesome, damp steps. In this 2nd instalment, nevertheless, she’s accompanied by a partner, and it’s this buddy – nicknamed Mono, although you’re never ever officially presented – that you’ll populate for this experience. Nary a word is exchanged in between them – sometimes they’ll call gently to each other – however it’s a collaboration that feels remarkable from the off, a relationship created in worry and an unfaltering decision to endure.
But beyond browsing this deformed world as a duo instead of in seclusion, there’s relatively little else that’s brand-new in Little Nightmares 2. While we’re no longer passing through the lilting passages of The Maw, it’s a grim background however, where nooses and hooks and bodies hang limply from the ceiling, damaged Television Set litter the ground, and brilliant toys sit expectantly in spotlights, baiting unwary kids. And though the set-pieces are various and the streets are empty and cold – no, there are no massive, pallid faces rushing to gobble you down their craws this time around – it feels quickly familiar, too.
In this regard, I reckon Little Nightmares is peerless. There’s not another studio that so perfectly tickles my fondness for the macabre, and no other series where each and every single vignette is a pixel-perfect work of art. I succumbed to the launching video game’s striking, dream-like style and grim tale totally and entirely, however it was an experience I concurrently liked and hated. As a spectator, Little Nightmares is achingly perfect; as a player, however, its clumsy platforming and opaque signposting make for an infuriating experience.
While the puzzling is a tad different in the sequel – Mono has Six to help them out, after all, and this time you can periodically fight back at the things that want to squish you like a spider – the issues that plagued the first game linger on. The 2.5D perspective is ripe for showcasing those terrifically terrifying environments, but it makes for clumsy, off-kilter platforming, particularly in chase sequences that saw me all too often career into doorframes rather than doorways. The control scheme feels more like a game of Twister than anything remotely intuitive, and though brandishing weapons is intentionally unwieldy, the delay between hitting the button and swinging the weapon is outrageously imprecise, particularly at later stages when combat requires precision that’s laborious to pull off.
I know it’s intentional. I know it’s to enhance the dread that permeates everything, a way to imbue the player with a little of the panic coursing through Mono, that the weird angles and skewed perspectives carefully and calculatingly conspire to make you feel worse. But a couple of sequences are maddeningly hard to get through; I suspect I now know a particular section of the school better than my child’s face, so often did I have to replay it. Yes, it’s exhilarating when you finally scrape through, but success shouldn’t come down to sheer luck, should it?
The puzzling, too, can be frustrating. Whilst it’s refreshing to face challenges content to let you problem-solve in your own sweet time without the need for prompts or yes-you-can-interact-with-this item radiance, occasionally you’ll find the utter lack of signposting more taxing than teasing, while others – such as TV teleportation, and a delicious maze sequence towards the end – are pure genius.
But there are fail states and pseudo-scripted deaths, tiresome chase sequences with obscure finish lines, groan-worthy combat sections, and terrifying sentient mannequins that you can only ward off with a wobbly flashlight (and sometimes not even then). The unsettling atmosphere generates a very real, cloying sense of panic, panic so extreme that my sweaty fingers would sometimes slip off the controller, but other times, the combination of bad luck and timing would make me scream with rage.
That said, it’s lengthier than the first game and doesn’t outstay its welcome, but some might still feel cheated by its the 5-6 hour run-time (depending upon how stuck you get, I guess). Like its predecessor, it’s a chilling tale that’ll likely sit with you long after you set down the controller, and one that took a couple of unexpected turns I absolutely did not anticipate.
I suspect that if you liked your time on The Maw the first time around, there’s little doubt you’ll enjoy your return trip to Six’s wondrously warped world. But if you struggled to get along with the first instalment, there’s likely nothing new for you here; many of the enemies, whilst as twisted as anything yanked from the darkest depths of the collective minds of the Brothers Grimm, are recycled variants of those we’ve met before, and the platforming and puzzles – while certainly challenging – are much the same, too.
All of which leads me to something of a conundrum. While my every instinct is to tell you that Little Nightmares 2 is a frustrating encounter that’s likely better watched than played, I can’t assist however confess I like it – busily and ferociously – even if it was such a straight-out ballache to play to conclusion.