Little Nightmares II just isn’t suited to action sequences. We recently got one more chance to go hands-on with Little Nightmares II ahead of its release, playing through the first two levels of the game. The first level was the Forest that we got to play during our first hands-on with Little Nightmares II, but the second, the School, was brand-new. And it was here that Little Nightmares II started focusing more on platforming and combat sequences, which weren’t as satisfying as the more puzzle- and stealth-focused levels we’ve played before.
In the School, protagonist Mono is quickly separated from deuteragonist Six, the original Little Nightmares‘ protagonist, as the two find themselves lost in a building that’s inhabited by the Bullies, trouble-making porcelain children, and stalked by a monstrously grotesque teacher. While the Bullies are pranksters that prefer to set deadly traps and only roughhouse Mono if they get too close, the Teacher is far more proactive, responding to every little sound and stretching her neck out like a gross snake to twist her head into biting range.
With all the Bullies running around, the school is more heavily inhabited than the Forest and Hospital levels we’ve played before. There are more combat sequences where you have to lift a hammer or pipe to smash the Bullies in your way or platforming sections where you must carefully run, jump, and climb around and through obstacles, while the Teacher’s head is twisting about the room, looking for you.
These sequences can be frustrating because Little Nightmares II is a very cinematic horror experience–the camera turns in specific ways to frame each individual shot, and Mono doesn’t move all that quickly or gracefully. During the moments when you’re trying to solve a puzzle, sneak past a monster, or are just moving on to the next location, these cinematic shots are to the game’s benefit, letting you soak in the world. But when Mono is tasked with quickly dispatching enemies or carefully making a difficult jump, sometimes the angle of the camera can make it harder than it has to be. And so you can end up dying. A lot. My memory of the School is divided into distinct chunks, each separated by a platforming or combat gauntlet where I died several times in the exact same place and just had to step away from the game for a few minutes.
Now, the School wasn’t all bad. In between all the dying over and over again were a few puzzle and stealth moments, and I loved those. Two stick out: having to find the necessary pieces to recreate a chess game in order to open a secret room, and carefully moving a platform in place with a squeaky lever by timing your actions to the piano being played by the Teacher while she’s trying to unwind after a long day of harvesting human brains. Little Nightmares II is at its best when you’re freaking out and trying to figure out how to move on, which doesn’t happen if you die at the same place repeatedly until it feels like you lucked into the right timing to continue.
Admittedly, this is one level. I’ve now played through three levels in Little Nightmares II. I really enjoyed the Forest and Hospital–both levels did have action-oriented moments of platforming or combat, but they handled them in ways that weren’t as frustrating as the School. For example, in the Forest, Six helped you figure out where to run and jump to avoid the Hunter as he chased you, and in the Hospital, you froze the Patients in place by shining a flashlight in their general direction, something much easier to do than perfectly timing a sluggish hammer swing. In both instances, failing to make it through felt like my own mistake, not the game’s controls and camera angles getting in my way. And, when I did fail, I regularly accomplished the task on my next try, which I liked because it maintained the momentum of the game’s horror. So from what I’ve played, I’ve technically enjoyed more than I’ve disliked.
But this last preview has made me a bit worried. When the combat sequences and platforming are kept to a minimum, Little Nightmares II really shines. There’s a real air of mystery to the world–like why are there just empty outfits all around the city where the School is located, almost like every adult just disappeared where they were standing? That mystery contributes to the mounting sense of dread, which is only helped along by the odd camera angles that shape everything in the most unsettling way possible. But those same angles aren’t ideal for a game geared more towards action. Hopefully, Little Nightmares II is mostly filled with levels like the Forest and Hospital, because I can’t see the game being all that fun if it ultimately focuses more on platforming and combat over puzzle-solving and stealth. Unless, of course, the structure and framing of the game changes in later levels.
We’ll just have to wait and see, though it won’t be long. Little Nightmares II launches for Xbox One, PS4, and PC on February 11. Xbox Series X|S and PS5 versions of Little Nightmares II are also in the works, scheduled to release sometime later this year.