Little Nightmares + Little Nightmares 2 Review
There is nothing little about these nightmares.
It’s not every day that a horror game succeeds in being both highly entertaining and deeply disturbing. Jump scares and mindless repetition have overtaken the horror genre as many modern games pit players against lurking supernatural threats. These games manufacture fear through long stretches of emptiness before assaulting the senses with a menagerie of horrifying imagery, flashing lights, and loud noises. Tarsier Studios opted to go an entirely different route with its stylized horror puzzler, instead settling on grotesque figures, dark themes, and overt helplessness to unease players.
You won’t shriek from fright during your time in Little Nightmares and its stylistically similar sequel, but you also won’t feel good about anything you’ve experienced when the credits roll. It’s not that either game is bad—quite the opposite. But there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Your efforts don’t vanquish evil or uncover the truth behind some age-old haunted mystery. You’re just a child trying to escape a literal nightmare, and what makes matters worse is you’ve likely dreamt of similar scenarios, rushing with maximum effort to avoid some monstrosity’s gaping maw. Your lungs burn and legs strain as some invisible impediment holds you back, guaranteeing your fate as a mid-afternoon snack for something that shouldn’t even exist. Unlike your dream self, though, the tiny protagonists of the Little Nightmare series are cunning. They know they’re one slip away from being a meal, and they’ll do anything necessary to avoid that fate.
Recapping the Nightmares
Six headlines the original Little Nightmares, exploring the sprawling Maw, a seafaring resort where the gluttonous and the greedy go to dine on whatever stumbles into their path. Mono’s adventure takes him through the Pale City, where he actually links up with Six in a prequel twist that ends horribly. All they want to do is survive, which means escaping from their personal hellscapes.
It’s possible to make it through both games without focusing much on the story, but those paying attention are treated to a disturbing and well-crafted narrative. Though it’s not groundbreaking storytelling that goes places we’ve never been, players will feel the weight of each character’s fight for survival. Six and Mono are sympathetic characters, and it’s impossible not to empathize with them as they creep through the sprawling landscapes. Despite a complete lack of dialogue, the toll their experiences take on them is written in their subtle movements.
Tarsier did a fantastic job building two engaging narratives using little more than striking imagery and nonverbal cues. Even more impressive is that the two are thematically different and will elicit unique reactions from players while remaining true to the little world Tarsier has developed. Whereas Little Nightmares is all-around devastating, as Six constantly battles a ravenous hunger and deadly monsters alone, Little Nightmares 2 deceives with a semblance of hope as Six and Mono join together and guide one another through Pale City. Little Nightmares 2 also adds elements of cosmic horror that don’t necessarily elevate the series - at least not yet.
As interesting as the combined story winds up being, the Little Nightmare series thrives on each game’s look, feel, and mechanics.
A Puzzler with a Stealthy Twist
Six and Mono may be small, but they’re capable of managing whatever Tarsier throws at them. Climbing bookshelves, sneaking into wall vents, pushing empty boxes, and grabbing keys will get them from point A to point B. However, Tarsier really wanted to challenge players, so not everything is obvious. Players have to think big to find small solutions that may be nestled in beautifully designed environments. Whether maneuvering through the halls of a dilapidated school or searching for an escape from a grotesque kitchen, Six and Mono must always have their eyes peeled for possible solutions. The puzzle aspect is balanced nicely, ensuring it won’t leave most players stumped. Though that just means there are real hazards lying in wait.
It wouldn’t be a sufficient nightmare without the presence of something truly terrifying, and enemy design is really where both games shine brightest. There is no shortage of creepy, brutish, malformed, and hungry fiends blocking Six and Mono’s journeys. Players will find themselves having to sneak around a long-armed janitor, a teacher with a growing neck, twin butchers, and more to survive their perils. Surviving typically boils down to reading AI patterns and following a set path. While not the most in-depth gameplay, each encounter is tense as falling into an enemy’s line of sight spells certain doom. At a fraction of the height of these cruel tormentors, Six and Mono can’t outrun anyone.
Overall, it’s fairly simplistic gameplay, but don’t confuse simplistic with easy. You’re going to die. Sometimes multiple times in the same spot. It’s so easy to get overzealous and step into an enemy’s path or misjudge a jump, but thankfully the only penalty for death is restarting at the last checkpoint. The stealth and traversal mechanics are top-notch in both games, but Light Nightmares 2 suffers a little with the addition of weapons and basic combat.
Mono is a bit bigger than Six, and he can wield tools like an ax or hammer. They come in handy when dilapidated doors block his path, but they’re a bit more cumbersome during Little Nightmares 2’s limited combat segments. There’s a slight delay that grows increasingly frustrating until you learn enemy patterns, and the one-hit-kill mechanic will bog down certain segments.
Overall, though, both games play very similarly, though Little Nightmares 2 is generally a more fluid and smoother experience. But that’s expected with sequels.
A Matter of Opinion
Both Little Nightmares and Little Nightmares 2 excel visually, and the soundtrack and sound design for both drive home their place in the horror genre. Little Nightmares 2 may offer more content and is bigger than its predecessor, but there’s something more personal about the original. Maybe it’s because it’s just us and Six, doing everything possible to evade persistent and deadly foe.
Regardless of which players consider the “better game,” any horror fan should play both. Since it’s not throwing ample jump scares at the screen, fans of competent platforming should also enjoy what this delightfully chilling series has to offer.
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