Some slight pacing and gameplay mechanic issues aside, Little Nightmares 2 is a brilliant sequel that will delight as much as it'll unnervingly linger.
There's a lot to be said for a game creating a creepy atmosphere. While full-blown horror titles have often tried and failed to really get under my skin, Little Nightmares 2 slowly seeped into my pores. It's not a game that goes out of its way to shock, its appearance on the surface coming across as rather tame among its horror stablemates, but the nightmares depicted here are truly insidious.
Six, the main character from the original game, becomes an AI partner here, with Mono taking the lead. Functionally little has changed, the lack of yellow raincoat being the major difference between the two. Having a compatriot along for the majority of the story does mean that pseudo co-op gameplay elements have been built in, which changes the feel of the game significantly from the first. It all works pretty seamlessly, too, with Six knowing when to help out. Not once during my playthrough did I feel Six was being problematic.
This might sound like a fairly backhanded compliment, but my fond memories of the previous game are sharply pierced by feelings of frustration and annoyance. These headaches were often due to awkward interactions with objects, or obtuse puzzles. This sequel improves the former so much that I rarely had a problem interacting with key items, and as such the whole game flows far smoother. Small puzzles, such as lifting a partial chess piece and placing it on top of a broken piece, might have been rather tedious in the first game, but here it's not an issue.
Puzzles are nicely varied throughout the game's five chapters, which was needed as the playtime is a fair bit longer than Little Nightmares. These are sometimes standalone, but at points Mono will gain access to a tool that is key to the puzzles in that area. For the most part the challenge here is pitched just right to make you feel smart rather than dumb, although a few moments with a flashlight prove to be on the slightly tedious and annoying side, especially as they involve Mono trying to evade the scariest of all horror creations: living mannequins.
What's not so smooth is the introduction of basic combat. Seeing as you're in a world where everything is too big or out of reach for small children, weapons you pick up for the occasional fights are oversized and heavy. Swinging a pipe or hammer is slow and sluggish, so it's easy to mistime a strike, and if you're attacked you're immediately returned to the previous checkpoint. This is never that far back, but if you fail to take out an enemy because you were out with your timing by a tiny amount, and this happens a couple of times in a row, it can start to annoy.
Being picky, I wish developer Tarsier Studios had been a little more forgiving at points. On multiple occasions you are asked to complete tasks with a time limit, failure to do so resulting in Mono getting grabbed by whatever beastly creature is stalking you. Purely for the sake of pacing, a few of these moments felt unfairly designed so success on a first attempt was nearly impossible. These aren't tricky areas of the game, but on first inspection the path to success just doesn't come to mind quickly enough, and as a result the gameplay beat is lost and you're yanked back to a checkpoint. A slightly lighter touch at times would have given some thrilling moments more headroom to impress as complete sequences.
The criticisms might be coming thick and fast, but it's only because these problem areas stand out as clear outliers in what is otherwise a very impressive production. An area that can't really be faulted is the visual aesthetic and audio design. As in the original, the visuals depict a world and characters that walk the line between the real and surreal. There's a hospital, but its inhabitants are creepy as shit mannequins; there's a school, but the teacher has a goddamn Beetlejuice neck. At any given moment Little Nightmares 2 teeters on the edge of Jack and the Beanstalk fantasy and full-blown In the Mouth of Madness, Lovecraftian cosmic horror. It's wonderful.
Little Nightmares 2 is a superb sequel that carries on the impressive tone of the original, but improves in all key areas. This isn't explosive horror, there's no gore or torture, and for the most part you're jumping onto levers, solving puzzles, and climbing up furniture, but that doesn't mean Tarsier hasn't created a standout horror experience.
Version tested: Xbox One - played on Xbox Series X. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this Little Nightmares 2 review. Little Nightmares 2 is available for Xbox One (compatible with Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S), PS4 (compatible with PS5), Nintendo Switch, and PC. PS5 and Xbox Series X|S bespoke versions are due later in 2021.