When it comes to horror games, you have a lot of options for indulging in the macabre. One of the most popular genres in the medium, for years developers have been crafting new ways to terrify and delight players. From the zombie-filled hallways of Resident Evil to the animatronic nightmare that is Five Nights at Freddy’s, every year we are reminded of why we are afraid of the monsters hiding under our bed.
Enter developer Tarsier Studios’ Little Nightmares 2.
Taking place after their 2017 hit game, Little Nightmares 2 places you in the tiny boots of Mono. Tasked with just trying to survive a world where its denizens have become twisted by a mysterious broadcast signal; players will need to run, jump, hide, and fight through hordes of fiendish abominations. While Little Nightmares 2 certainly has its fair share of fights that cater to adults, it’s the embrace of the childhood wonder of terror that makes it so unique. This may seem like an odd way to explain the grotesque horrors of this sequel, but having played through it twice I found myself recollecting about old nightmares I used to suffer from as a kid.
This comes from the way that Tarsier Studios presents most of its scares. Instead of relying on gimmicky jump scares, Little Nightmares 2 often lets players stew in its dark, overwhelmingly large world. I mean large in the literal sense, as Mono is less than half the size of an average door. By doing this, Little Nightmares 2 turns mundane tasks such as opening a door into titanic undertakings. It adds a layer of fear we really don’t think about anymore, since we don’t stare up at a door handle like we would a mountain’s peak. Our understanding of doors in games is that they either open or don’t, but Tarsier Studios asks the question “Can you even reach the door to find out?”
It’s a terrifying concept, one that roots itself in the relatable, because everyone was a small child at one point in their life (I hope). This idea enhances the game’s various chase sequences, which often see Mono running from giant, deformed humans. Players will find themselves clamoring over pieces of furniture, just narrowly escaping death. Instead of just bashing through a door or climbing into a vent, Little Nightmares 2 asks you to quickly think about how you’ll reach the door, vent, or hiding place.
Yet, Little Nightmares 2 isn’t just content with explaining how you died. Most horror games adopt a more mature tone, aiming to shock their players with excessive brutality and violent images, but Tarsier Studios goes in a different direction. Much like a nightmare, the actual fate of Mono is often obscured or left to the player’s own interpretation. You are typically grabbed by the monster, but then the game just fades to black. Much like a dream, this is the moment you’d snap awake, soaked in a cold sweat as you try desperately to not think about what happens next. It’s a brilliant piece of gameplay design that subverts the expectations of players and the genre itself.
Tarsier Studios asks you to remember what it was like to be a kid again, facing down your greatest fears in a world that feels utterly out of your control.
It’s the mix of the surreal and relatable that really fuels this game’s identity. There are a number of locations you’ll be asked to explore, almost all of which are very overused horror settings. Even though these areas are almost always creepy — regardless of the game — Little Nightmares 2 fills these places with almost universal childhood fears.
Take the school for example, a place with two major threats: porcelain doll students known as Bullies and the Teacher. Both of these tap into fears we often experienced either in real life or our own nightmares as kids. There’s a deep familiarity that really elevates the scares.
You can relate to the idea of getting caught in class, the teacher’s gaze singling you out among your peers. But like a good nightmare, it distorts as the teacher’s neck slowly elongates allowing this terror to zero in on your location. This may not have you jump out of your seat or scream in terror, but it does get under your skin and lets the discomfort of these horrors fester in the back of your mind. It kept coming back to me, even when I stopped playing.
Little Nightmares 2 is a mind-bending journey that constantly reminded me of the surrealism of dreams and how they are interpreted by a child. There’s a dark beauty to it all, even if it’s buried under layers of body horror, disembodied hands, and an overwhelming sense of scale.