2020 / rated T / Developed by Tarsier Studios / Published by Bandai Namco Entertainment / Multi-Platform /
Like it’s 2017 predecessor, Little Nightmares 2 is a gorgeous game. It’s art style is distinct – and distinctly cartoonish and surreal in a triple-A video game world where hyper-realistic characters and environments, more often than not, rules the day. I enjoyed the first game, despite it’s frustrations, and I enjoyed this one too even with some major frustrations, but I love that this game exists and how many of the current expectations for what people will play and studios will produce it is defiantly against.
Where the first game felt styled like a Miyazaki movie with it’s adorable hero and anthropomorphic pigs, Nightmares 2 takes a much darker tone. It’s more like something Laika would put out, not afraid to be both adorable and utterly creepy. Grim, rainy and satirical, I love how the game captures what it would be like to be very small, navigating around a world where everything is out to kill you. The way our hero, Mono, hangs on doors to open them, or the extra heft it requires to deliver a single swing of an axe you drag around, is the wonderful opposite of the supernatural power fantasy games often deliver now. At a time when most games are obsessed with the graphical power of showing us the 5 o’clock shadow on a marine’s face, Little Nightmares 2 has a protagonist whose face you can barely see, when he doesn’t have a bag on his head.
I also love that game doesn’t hold our hand at all. It doesn’t explain the story, dropping a buffet of visual clues and forcing us to put it together. We sneak through a school house of feral porcelain children and a horrific teacher, a mental institute full of live mannequins and a town full of “Viewers”, adults frozen to TVs to the point that their faces have flattened to nothing.
More so, we are given next to no help on the puzzles. We get to use a lot more tools or weapons than in the first game – axes, hammers, flashlights and remote controls all play into the puzzles, but very often just determining what the nature of the puzzle even is is part of the puzzle. It involves scowering the frame of the room for anyway to squeeze an inch further. When you do figure it out, its far more satisfying than the Quick Time Events and onscreen instructions of other games.
But, and there is a very big but here – the controls of Little Nightmares 2 are borderline terrible. Little Nightmares is a bad platformer. The first game had a problem with this and the new one does even more. It a 2.5-D side-scrolller that allows the character to move back and forth in the space. The first game made jumping difficult, the new game makes almost everything it does difficult. The controls are muddy, the actions unresponsive, and a lot of movement requires you to claw your fingers across the controller, sticking 3 buttons at once to run, jump and grab a ledge. The game’s puzzles and action set pieces are unforgiving, constantly requiring split second timing and instant response that the controls can’t deliver. The flashlight sequence involving fending off mannequins by freezing them in the light is brutal in this regard. All of the monsters move faster than the controls can move you and the flashlight itself spins around in directions you sometimes can’t even control. It’s miserable.
That’s the problem with Little Nightmares 2, as beautiful as it is, as much as I love that this game – and games like it exist – as unique as the art style and commitment to the horror tone is (including a creepy tall Thin Man that stalks you) – large sections of it are not fun at all. The charm of it gets drained with every unfair death.