First Impressions: Little Nightmares II Demo
One of the surprise hits of 2017 was a horror-tinged puzzle platformer from Malmo, Sweden-based Tarsier Studios, called Little Nightmares. The game literally dripped with atmosphere, telling its story through the environment you were tasked with traversing. Terrifyingly-proportioned humans pursued your character relentlessly through a claustrophobic nightmare of a ship, gorgeous and vile at the same time. Brief blissful moments of safety punctuated the overall feeling of dread you faced throughout the adventure.
All of this made the original an instant classic, and more than 2 million copies later, we are on the precipice of the sequel. I’ve written about the first game and interviewed a co-founder of the studio, so the sequel has been at the top of my most wanted list ever since it was announced. Now that the demo has arrived, what does it show us about the developer’s vision for our re-entry into this world?
Back to The Maw
We’ve known for a while now that the game will take place in the same universe as the original, in a world known as The Maw. Screenshots even show that the first game’s protagonist, raincoat-clad Six, will join with the player-character, a young boy named Mono, during this adventure. The demo’s first scene re-establishes that world, showing a door with the same eye-like symbol on it as was seen throughout the first game.
I was immediately struck by the fact that the game opens up in a windswept forest clearing, trees all around with tall grass and leaves blowing everywhere. This feels wonderful after enduring the confines of the ship throughout the majority of the original. It reminded me very much of the opening scenes of PlayDead’s brilliant indie puzzle-platformer Inside.
The graphics are detailed, grass swaying convincingly in the breeze. The enemy characters are once again gruesome to look at in proportion and intent. Dead bodies are posed like the living, as if in a horrific still-life painting. The actual living bodies are even more intricately designed than before, terrifying even before they spring into action. When the camera zooms in to show Mono in a tight space, the loving detail is evident and makes the world feel alive.
The next thing I noticed was the soundscape and how much it really makes the experience click, even in just this short bit of play. The ever-present wind, footsteps on the grass, the sound of steel bear-traps snapping their murderous jaws shut, and that was just the first few screens. The score thrums in the background as you creep along, then takes flight with your character as you run for your life.
I’m a firm believer that great sound design can either draw you into a game world or pull you right out of the experience and remind you it’s just a game if done poorly and so far this game is firmly in the great camp.
Familiar and new
In the short bit of gameplay that was on offer here, it’s clear that Tarsier didn’t want to stray too far from the success of the first game, but still found ways to make the experience fresh.
This mainly comes in the form of a partner that Mono finds about halfway through the 15-odd minutes of time we are given in the game world. This will presumably be a large part of the full game, as most of the promo screenshots show Mono with Six. Is she the character you meet in the demo? We don’t know yet, but we do know that together they help each other over tall obstacles and work to overcome puzzles. It was refreshing to see your partner actively complete a puzzle that you started by getting a necessary piece, so it seems clear that the partner-AI so often lacking in games won’t present familiar headaches here.
The gameplay was another facet that gave me an Inside vibe, with an enemy at the end of the demo swinging a flashlight in a timed pattern that your characters must avoid. The sneaking in tall grass that led to that point was satisfying and gave a bit of drama the first time it happened, having never been an option in the first game. The rest is standard fare from the first game, carrying objects, running and dodging, and the like. They’ve even worked in a bit of subtle but effective DualSense integration on the PS5. All in all, what we experience in the demo feels both familiar and new enough to satisfy anyone who picks it up.
We’ve only a short wait left to experience the thrills and chills the full game is sure to offer. Out on February 11th for all major platforms, this one is sure to scratch the platformer, puzzler and horror itch for quite a few players. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the first game, the demo, and if you’ll be picking up the new game on Day 1!