The Bleakest Odyssey
HIGH The wrenching final battle.
LOW A puzzle built entirely around sound.
WTF The game’s cover reveals a huge mid-game twist.
Little Nightmares II opens, as its predecessor did, with no explanation for its world or rules. A little boy with a box on his head escapes a trap in a dark forest, then moves onscreen right because that’s the only option available. There’s no context provided, nor any opening monologue to explain the situation — just the understanding that if the boy doesn’t keep moving forward, something terrible will catch up to him.
An apparent prequel, Little Nightmares II takes place in a big city where the boy and his sometimes-sidekick Six make their way through one horrid ordeal after another. The content is equally divided between clever environmental puzzles and harrowing chase scenes, and once again the player controls a tiny person in a giant world where a piece of everyday furniture becomes an obstructing monolith, and average doors are impassable barriers with knobs far out of reach.
LNII‘s art design is captivating. It’s as if the player is moving dolls around a miniature playhouse, and the warped scale gives a chance to consider each texture and gnarl in the wooden floors and furniture. The smallest rathole becomes a secret pathway, and the diminutive heroes’ stature establishes tone perfectly — the world contains nothing but threats.
Also successful are the villains. From the bag-headed hunter to the teacher who can find her students no matter how well they hide, these monstrous pursuers are genuinely disturbing, especially when the penalty for failing to escape is to see the boy be devoured. These tense chases are well-balanced, and each escape route is clearly flagged. They’re not easy by any means, but they’re fairly built and almost never force the player to memorize a long sequence of surprise instant-kills.
The puzzles are just as good as the chases, with a refreshing lack of contrivance to the obstacles that stymie the player.
Since most of Little Nightmares 2 is built around the idea that the world itself becomes a puzzle for anyone it wasn’t designed for, the player will have to create routes suitable for a tiny person. From pushing luggage around to use as stepping-stones to throwing cans of soda to hit activator buttons, there are hours of sneaky ways to transform basic navigation into challenging brain-teasers.
Both puzzles and chases are supported by a gorgeous physics simulation. Everything in LNII has believable weight to it, and it makes every interaction a joy to behold. There’s one sequence in particular where the boy must set off a field of bear traps before he can cross a depression, and watching the chain reaction of traps triggering each other off was delightful.
Sadly, this near-perfect run is marred by one incredibly ill-conceived puzzle at the end of the campaign. It’s a classic ‘teleporting doorways’ puzzle in which the player has to go through a series of doors in a specific order to unlock the next area. The problem is that the way to tell which door to go through is by listening for the sound of distant music. There is a visual cue, but it’s incredibly easy to miss unless the player is sitting a foot away from a large monitor. Anyone with hearing issues or playing on mute will find themselves completely stumped by the last puzzle in the game.
Also, while I don’t mind a mysterious opening, I do take some issue with the fact that LNII‘s story remains completely opaque. All of the narrative comes via environmental design — players get clues from the way homes are decorated and from what’s been left behind. The world obviously had something terrible happen very recently — everything is in utter disrepair, and it’s all bleak and decaying, but just a bit more information as to who, why or how would have been appreciated.
Little Nightmares 2 lives up to its name. The journey is challenging and frightening, but haunting is what it does best thanks to powerful imagery that will ensure players will keep thinking about this short journey long after they’ve finished. It’s an emotionally wrenching tale, but it’s absolutely one worth taking.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Tarsier Studios and published by Bandai Namco. It is currently available on Switch/XB1/X/S, PS4/5, and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS5. Approximately 7 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Violence and Blood. I’m not sure how this thing ducked under an M rating. While there’s not a ton of brutal violence, there’s plenty of evidence of its aftermath of it. There’s a large number of references to suicide as well, so take that into account before handing it over to a teen.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game without audio and encountered no difficulties other than the puzzle mentioned above in the review. There is no text in the game other than menus and onscreen button prompts. Text cannot be resized or altered.
Also, here is a guide I created to help players get past the music-based puzzle:
Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.