In Simon Garfield’s In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate the World, he argues that shrinking things down to size satisfies an innate desire for elucidation and mastery. The regular world is chaotic, and so by reducing its scale – as seen in things like museum dioramas – we can more easily understand and control things.
Little Nightmares 2 poses the opposite idea: what happens when the scale increases? When we ourselves are shrunk down, and the regular world appears bigger? Suddenly we’re hit with the reversed effects: order and control is replaced with deeper layers of mystery and a heightened sense of vulnerability. Comprehension melts away, and fear follows closely to fill the gaps.
In Little Nightmares 2 you play a small child-like figure named “Mono”. Lost in the woods at night, you awaken to a world filled with threat and menace. Small hills are actually perilous cliffs, and the bear traps that litter the forest floor are big enough to swallow you whole.
While everything plays out from a pint-sized perspective, Little Nightmares is no child’s game. There’s a hazy, pensive mood throughout, and a real obsession with body horror and all things grotesque. In the woods you’ll find canvas bags bulging with body parts, while in the depths of a hunter’s cabin there’s a stuffed family sat round the dinner table, tumorous food spilling out from their plates and bowls.
Little Nightmares 2 offers a good mixture of platforming and problem-solving in a world that might be described as “2.5D”. Navigation is simple. You make your way from left to right as you would in a traditional 2D platformer, only here there’s also depth to the environments. You can clamber over things in the background or find secret areas hidden away in dark corners. Occasionally, the game also makes use of perspective shifts, with several chase scenes forcing you to sprint towards the camera, your pursuer looming large in the background.
A lot of the time there’s only one way to bypass obstacles, and failing a stealth sequence is a common occurrence. This means there’s some trial and error involved, although I think in many ways you’ll want to fail, and even die, if only to get a closer look at the game’s fine animation work and all the gruesome detailing. Importantly, stealth and puzzles both feel naturalistic, and there’s often excellent pay-off and even a cathartic release at the end of particularly gruelling sections.
Not long into the game, you’ll join forces with Little Nightmares 2’s other character, “Six”, the tiny protagonist from the original game. While you’ll mount several rescues – and there’s even an Ico-esque hand-holding mechanic that allows you to drag her around – along the journey Six begins to feel like the tougher and more complex of the two characters.
You’ll often find her leading the way, jumping across treacherous chasms and then beckoning for you to follow with a leap of faith – a neat reversal of the hand-holding, where suddenly you become reliant on Six pulling you to safety. Six also has a bit of mean-streak. At one point, after defeating an enemy by luring them into an incinerator, she stops to rub her hands by the fire, menacingly.
While there are few out-right scares, Little Nightmares 2 understands tension. There’s dread and eeriness in abundance, and I respect the extent to which Tarsier Studios has utilised quiet moments and even silence. There are long lulls without much action, but these slow, wandering sequences are also great at setting the scene and building the atmosphere. I also love how often you hear danger before you see it. Ominous sounds – rattling, scraping, murmuring – always appearing a room or two before any direct confrontation.
There’s a lot of variety in the environments when compared to the original game. After the forest, you’ll arrive at the shores of a place called the “Pale City”. Old tenement buildings sway and bend in the wind, and interiors are full of creaking rotten wood and peeling wallpaper. It’s a haunting place, desolate and derelict, and very reminiscent of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children – a film Tarsier Studios has previously cited as an influence.
Little Nightmares 2 takes you to a creepy old boarding school, one that’ll ensure you’ll never look at school dinners the same way again. Later on, you’ll get to explore an abandoned hospital. In fact, with a silent story and several late-game mechanics that tap into the idea of a haunted public broadcasting signal, there’s a real sense of institutional horror here that begins to creep in and build up. An unnaturally tall, government-looking man with a top hat and briefcase even begins to chase you, all the while the unearthly signal that broadcasts through television sets chips away at the life of the city.
At one point the original Little Nightmares was appropriately titled “Hunger”. Set in a resort surrounded by the fullness of the ocean, it appeared obsessed with things like meat and a sense of swelling fullness. In contrast, Little Nightmares 2 more closely examines lifeless bodies that get left behind. The Pale City is a skeleton littered with the empty piles of clothes of vanished citizens. Prosthetics and phantom limbs fill its hospitals, and its schools are populated entirely by porcelain puppets with empty-shells for heads.
Like its predecessor, Little Nightmares 2 is bursting with creative themes and imagery. I’m fascinated with its eerie, stop-motion style animation, its body horror, and even the fantastical French films it draws inspiration from. Like the game’s strange broadcast, I’m struggling to shake the effects of Little Nightmares. Again and again I find my mind wandering back to its strange, grey city. I’m sure it won’t be long before the pull of the signal proves too much and I’m sucked back in completely.
‘Little Nightmares 2’ is available February 11 for PS4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and PC. PS5 and Xbox Series X|S versions will arrive later in the year.
Little Nightmares 2 builds on the original game, fleshing out its ominous world while poking at new and intriguing themes. Dwarfed by the world around them, Mono and Six are a likeable duo and true underdogs. With a fantastically sinister art style, and some world class sound design, on a pale and wintry evening, you won’t find a more absorbing six-hour romp.
- Solid puzzles, exploration and stealth, that tie into the world and feel natural
- Does interesting things with perspective, changing the camera in chase scenes and generally making you feel very, very small
- Fantastic art direction, animation and sound design
- Plenty of intriguing themes and very strong imagery
- Tense and eerie throughout
- Some of the stealth and chase sections are easy to mess-up, and so lose some of their potency through sheer repetition