If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise, namely a massive log to the face or a bear trap snapping you body in half. Make no mistake, you are going to die an awful lot in this follow up to Tarsier Studios 2017 hit Little Nightmares. The sequel stars Mono, a little boy who wakes up in a forest on the outskirts of the massive, foreboding city that was glimpsed in the first game, joining up with Six, the yellow raincoat wearing protagonist from the first game, to traverse hospitals, crumbling buildings, and the darkest of basements.
The gameplay remains roughly the same as the first game, Mono can jump, climb, push, and hold certain objects, solving environmental puzzles and moving deeper in to the city. There are a few instances when pixel perfect jumping is required, including sections where you are running, and if you aren’t very careful Mono will jump in the wrong direction and plummet to his death.
The puzzles may look complicated at first, but all have very simple solutions. However, as the game gives you no hints whatsoever, you may find yourself stuck for a while – I spent a good few hours stuck in one room after trying the obvious solution which failed, and only after running, jumping and literally throwing my in-game toys about in frustration did I try my first solution again and it worked. It turns out that if you are really small, shopping trolleys need a really good push to get them over a plank.
Like the first game, the nightmares you encounter are not chainsaw wielding vampiric monsters that adults might have bad dreams of, but the twisted versions of a seemingly innocent tableaux that might haunt children,. A teacher takes a class, a trip to the hospital, and even the simple act of watching television become warped and twisted and are far more disturbing than any axe murderer who might be hiding in a cupboard. The enemies are themed to the location you are in; wandering in to a school will find you beset by what I can only describe as a hoard of evil Pinocchios who are very eager to rip Mono limb from limb.
New to the series, but only in select locations, is a combat mechanic. Mono can use pipes, ladles, and even a shotgun to dispatch enemies, but that doesn’t make this an action romp. Timing is the key here as, like everything else in the nightmare, the objects are much larger than Mono an you only get one chance to land an attack. When the game starts throwing multiple enemies at you this can be frustrating, especially when you have having to fend off enemies from all angles, but it’s also very tense and a blessed relief when it’s over.
The core theme to the story’s escapism and how you interpret what is on screen is up to you, but given the current state of the world the sequences where the city’s inhabitants stare zombie-like into television screens hits home rather harder than the developers could have ever hoped for when they began creating the game a few years ago.
Running on a PlayStation 5 via backward compatibility – the native PS5 and Xbox Series X|S versions are coming later in 2021 – it manages to be one of the best looking games I have played in the last few months (if you could call bags of corpses hanging from the ceiling good looking). At points the camera zooms out, it leaves Six and Mono as mere specs on the screen to show the vast, desolate city with the foreboding Signal Tower glowing in the distance. The levels themselves are packed with envorinmental storytelling, from scribbled pictures on walls to buildings that lean forward as you move closer. It’s as if the city itself were alive.
Accompanying the visuals is a stunning soundtrack created by Tobias Lilja, the Audio Director for the game. The sound effects are just as unsettling as the visuals; bones are crunched, slimey things drip and the main enemies are accompanied by some of the the most disturbing sounds your console will make. One of the large enemies can be heard make constant, huffing, guttural sounds as if he is about to cough something up. It’s truly unsettling hearing him wheezing as he scuttles about above our tiny protagonists.
There are a number of chase sequences, and while the first is terrifying, by the fourth they have lost some of their impact and become annoying rather than exciting. Holding a button Running, pressing another to jump and then timing to grab onto ledges all at the same time feels rather fiddly. There are also a couple of puzzles that require you to listen for sound, so if you are hard of hearing you may have problems. Without trying to be ‘woke’ I should also mention one level features creatures made entirely of prosthetic limbs. We’ve seen that many times before in the past but equating disabilities to evil scary things isn’t really something we should be seeing in 2021.