All the best horror stories pack creepiness into even the smallest details, making sure that you always feel a little uneasy in their worlds. And if Polygon’s preview of the first two chapters of Little Nightmares 2 is any indication, this game is all about those details.
Little Nightmares 2 is developer Tarsier Studios’ follow-up to 2017’s Little Nightmares. Like the first game, Little Nightmares 2 puts you in control of a very tiny character, this time named Mono, who must sneak through a world full of huge (from their perspective) monsters. While the first game was set mostly in The Maw, a giant ship at sea, Little Nightmares 2 is set in the haunting metropolis of Pale City, which is full of massive buildings with terrifying monsters waiting inside.
Little Nightmares 2 offers a mix of light platforming, clever puzzles, and plenty of stealthily hiding from enemies (just like the first game), including a certain section in the second chapter, which involved a monster playing the piano, that was one of my favorite stealth sections in any recent game.
Every detail feels carefully crafted to maximize the sense of dread. The environment is scattered with unsettling scenes of inhabitants of Pale City who have suffered tragic, unexplained fates. Then there’s the game’s myriad of strange sounds. In almost every area, some new sound comes from something lurking just off-screen, like the lumbering of giant footsteps, a mysterious creature’s clicking, or the sound of a rope getting tighter and tighter.
All these careful details feed into the game’s ultimate scare: death. Just like the first game, if you fail a puzzle or make the wrong move in a stealth section, you’re probably going to get caught by one of the monsters and suffer a horrific fate. And Little Nightmares 2 spares no expense on just how bad these deaths can get.
Getting caught when you’re sneaking around causes a sharp and shocking burst of music to cut into the game’s moody score, as the monster you’re hiding from rushes toward you in one inhuman way or another. You’ll usually have a second or two to run, but it’s almost always futile as the monster snatches you up to eat you, or shoots you, or leaves you to some other horrible end.
Unfortunately, these scares become a little bit less effective if you have to retry a section more than once — something that happened to me a few times, thanks to the game’s occasionally unclear camera and slightly finicky controls. In one case, a stealth section led me to retry a section four different times, making the once-horrific death scene little more than an annoyance by the end. But these rare inconveniences are well worth it for how creepy each of the deaths is the first time around.
Part of what makes each death so memorable is how much care went into designing each of the game’s enemies. The second chapter in particular shows off how strong these designs can be. The chapter’s main monster is a schoolteacher from hell with monstrous eyes, plasticky skin, a terrifying grin, and a neck that twists and extends endlessly — which the game uses to great effect in a few of its stealth puzzles.
The teacher’s design is a massive step up from the burlap-sack monsters of the first Little Nightmares and shows just how far Tarsier Studios has come in the few years since its release. The teacher looks like a flesh-and-blood abomination, and every little glance and sneer from her is uniquely creepy.
Almost as scary as the teacher is her class of porcelain doll-like students. They rove around the school like ravenous zombies that attack you if you move or make noise in their vicinity. But each of these students is about the same size as our main character, and that means we’ve got the chance to fight back so long as there’s a pipe, or hammer, or other blunt object around to use as a weapon. While it’s clear these poor students have lost whatever minds they once had, the way they shatter into pieces when the dull thud of a melee attack hits them is almost as unsettling as any death Mono himself can suffer.
While all of the enemies in Little Nightmares 2 would be plenty terrifying when standing still, their animations add a whole new dimension to the game’s unsettling atmosphere. The larger enemies like the teacher walk in a stilted jittery animation, like claymation monsters designed to look wrong. Meanwhile the students move with all the grace and smoothness of the main character, making them feel like familiar, alternate-world versions of Mono.
All these details allow even the quietest moments of Little Nightmares 2 to contain a tiny bit of dread, and through the first two chapters, I couldn’t wait to see what new terror awaited me. If the rest of the game is half as unsettling as the first two chapters, Little Nightmares 2 might be an early contender for one of the scariest games of the year.
Little Nightmares 2 is scheduled to be released on Feb. 11, and will be available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X.