We got the chance to sink some time into the game's second chapter.
Sequels are always something I feel cautiously optimistic about. If done right, a good sequel can improve upon the flaws on the original, whilst allowing us to revisit characters and settings we fell in love with in the first game. If done poorly, however, they can leave a permanent blotch on the original's legacy. With the first Little Nightmares being such an unexpected gem, I did approach the sequel with an air of caution when being offered the chance to preview it. Fortunately though, after sinking some time in, I'm pretty satisfied that the project is on the right track and could even result in being a superior experience.
Within the demo, I had access to the first two chapters of the game, and these were The Wilderness and The School. I won't be touching on The Wilderness in too much detail here, as we already covered it within our first preview last year (for more on that, you can click here). The School, however, sees Mono separated from his new companion Six (the protagonist from the first game), and it's up to you to rescue her from a group of school children known as Bullies. Your valiant rescue mission takes place within the dimly-lit hallways of a 19th Century school, which is quite the departure from the previous chapter.
The School absolutely nails the chilling atmosphere and the eternal sense of dread that made the original such a standout experience. Within a recent keynote, the developer's described the school system to be almost like a prison and that's exactly the feeling this evoked here. Bullies storm the hallways almost like they're in gangs, and The Teacher can be seen patrolling the classroom with a ruler firmly fixed in hand in an almost militaristic fashion. This was a setting, which is clearly a child's personal hell and progressing through the chapter always felt deeply unsettling, as I knew that another chase or stealth section was coming.
One thing I dread about potentially reviewing the game in the future is running into The Teacher for a second time. She might seem chilling at first as she can be seen ruling the classroom with an iron first, but just wait until she sets her gaze upon you. Running for my life as The Teacher followed me by extending her spaghetti-like neck was easily the most terrifying part of the demo. In many sections here, you have to hide in boxes and other secluded areas to avoid her spotting you and this felt so tense as she examined the area.
The pacing here feels excellent as there's a real mix of puzzles, stealth sections, and chase sequences to help break things up. I have to applaud the stealth sequences especially, as each seem to have their own distinctive mechanics to prevent them from feeling stale. In one sequence in The Wilderness you have to hold your breath in the swamp to break the sight of the shotgun-wielding Hunter. In The School, there's one where you have to wear the head of one of the fallen Bullies (they're made of clay) to help blend in with the rest of their peers.
Puzzles were a cornerstone of gameplay within the first Little Nightmares game and that's something that doesn't appear to have changed here. In the sequel, these puzzles appear expanded in the sense that you now have a second character to worry about. During an early part of The School, you must make your way up to the shattered floor above and figure out a separate path ahead for both Mono and Six. A few new mechanics have been introduced here, as you can boost each other up to reach higher heights, and you can make a pulse-racing leap of faith to grab your partner's hand when trying to clear larger gaps.
I found the demo overall to be an excellent showcase of the game, but I did have one small criticism. This section of the game introduces the player to some light combat, and I found wielding a weapon to feel clunky and imprecise. Often you'll have to sneak behind Bullies and whack them over the head with some kind of blunt object and I could never get a feel for the timing. This was especially a pain during sections where Bullies would throw themselves at you and you had to respond quickly by swinging your weapon. Fortunately though, there's no penalty for failure and loading back at a previous checkpoint is lighting fast here.
Little Nightmares 2 could well be one of the first must-have games of 2021 if it manages to continue at the same pace as its first two chapters. I found myself constantly on edge when playing due to its haunting atmosphere and wonderfully curated stealth and chase sequences. The environmental variety looks to have been improved tenfold too, and I enjoyed the new mechanics built around the dual protagonists. Be sure to check back for our full thoughts when Little Nightmares 2 launches on February 11, 2021.