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Little Nightmares is a series that capitalises on the horror of being small and defenceless within a dark twisted world. It isn’t a series that directly terrifies through instant jump scares, but instead relies on macabre caricatures, their twisted forms exaggerated in ginormous stature in comparison to our pint-sized protagonist. Little Nightmares II, the upcoming 2021 sequel, is a game that seemingly has no shame when it comes to using every horror trick in the book, transforming the experience beyond its predecessor.
Thanks to Bandai Namco, we were able to dive into a preview for Little Nightmares II, allowing us to get an idea for what distorted terrors await us in the final game next year. We started with our protagonists, Mono and Six, awaking in an apparent institution, accompanied by a scattering of mannequins in various poses positioned around a TV. This situation is, of course, ominous; the presence of mannequins in any video game is a gut-wrenching warning sign of things to come.
Aside from atmosphere, the one thing that Little Nightmares II nails right off the bat, is its use of kinesthetic learning. There’s no explicit instructions. Every mechanic is taught by doing, offering situational clues that move you forward whilst maintaining uncomfortable levels of immersion. It also reinforces the significance of solving environmental puzzles, which are both vital to progression and survival.
Despite being accompanied by the first game’s raincoat wearing wanderer, Six, the preview had us play mostly as newcomer Mono. Six is still useful, he serves as a support when we need boosting up onto ledge or an extra pair of hands, but you’re seperated often. Just as you’d expect, it’s those moments when you’re alone in another room that the game decides it’s time to strike, with enemies waiting for the opportunity to pounce.
Being chased in any video game is a terrifying experience and Little Nightmares II is no exception. Just as you’ve begun to become desensitised to the various plastic body parts littering the institution, a hand reanimates from a stretcher, finds its target (you) and speeds towards it, initiating a horrifying pursuit. Not only did this encounter feel distinctively different from the first game, but it was also one extremely effective jump scare.
Naturally, your first instinct is to run as fast as you can, an especially challenging ordeal when it comes to scurrying across unfamiliar terrain, but the enemies of Little Nightmares II are more determined than before. Just when it seemed like the chase was ending, the plastic Adams Family monstrosity revealed its ability to scamper its way up the same structures as we can. Thankfully, the preview provided light at the end of the tunnel – in the form of a ball pin hammer.
While it might seem like adding combat to the game would distract from its core idea of helplessness, wielding weapons in Little Nightmares II feels anything but empowering. Fighting is a struggle, the weight of the weapon in comparison to Mono is perfectly portrayed with every desperate swing. If anything, instances of combat are more like fatigued confrontations in a slasher film where, unless you’re the final girl, rarely works out well.
All dangerous situations require their risk versus reward caveat, with the reward in this instance being one of two power cells required to access the elevator in the foyer of the institution. Structurally, it’s heavily reminiscent of Resident Evil or Silent Hill, especially since we also need to use the power cell to access the second part of the building to grab another power cell.
Just as I’d previously feared, the second segment of this preview was populated by an overwhelming horde of murderous mannequins. These ones featured a familiar caveat– they’re only able to move when shrouded in darkness, Lights Out style. Luckily, Mono comes equipped a torch which can use used to halt their approach, but that’s no easy feat when they start grasping at you from different angles.
As well as playing the role of terrifying antagonists, the mannequins within this section hold the dual purpose of being part of the puzzle-solving process. In some instances, mannequins will be blocking doors or occupying wheelchairs that need to be pushed. Unfortunately, turning off the lights is your only means of progression here. Being forced to make counter-intuitive decisions to solve puzzles is a brilliant way to maintain the adrenaline rush of being pursued across the whole of the game, but I’ll never forgive them for this.
As previously mentioned, Little Nightmares II places more emphasis on jump scares than its predecessor, with every encounter being more likely to catch you off guard. One of the most effective moments of this preview featured a narrow corridor of jail cells, each containing a ravenous mannequin’s extended limbs clawing at you as you pass. These extended moments of panic help maintain an elevated sense of anxiety, which is a critical part of the horror experience.
Overall, Little Nightmares II is shaping up to be an excellent horror sequel, perfecting itself far beyond the original formula. From its eerie sound design and lighting to the creative use of jump scares, enemies and puzzles, Little Nightmares II is a genuinely frightening experience that captures the essence of exaggerated childhood terrors and a fear of the unknown. While the game’s plot is not completely apparent at this stage, the preview does leave off with some familiar faces, ones of which are anything but friendly.