This article begins with a premise of almost no use except for the writer, you can skip it directly or see it as a small authorial whim, hoping that in the middle of the register of words there is something useful, but it is not guaranteed. My relationship with Tarsier Studios and Little Nightmares was born about four years ago, when Bandai Namco decided to show the game to the press during Gamescom 2016. There is always curiosity around new projects, even more so if presented by such revealing publishers, even if it was - and it is - a “minor” project, which hardly attracts great attention in the midst of events of this kind, always rich in highly anticipated triple A, between new and historical IPs.
Yet, the Little Nightmares demo made available turned out to be an excellent business card for the project and for the team behind it and I distinctly remember that after the small game session and the chat with the developers, we all came out very impressed by the room dedicated to the little nightmares of Talajic e Mervik. Yet, for years, my relationship with Six and his grotesque odyssey has been stuck there, firm and dormant by the trap of the "I'll catch up later" mechanically formulated when, a few months later, the review copy went to another colleague. Having stayed out of the first chapter, I absent-mindedly followed the production of the "sequel", until a few weeks ago, putting a library in order, I found a small keyring of Six, present in the press kit provided to that now distant Gamescom . Trivial, I recognize it, but it was the stimulus to delve into the jaws of the delusional Little Nightmares submarine and finally get to know Six in depth.
If in the very first bars the game did not manage to totally involve me, while admiring its dark and grotesque style from a dark fairy tale, after an hour I was totally captivated and fascinated by the ordeal of the yellow coat. With the growing tension and hunger of the protagonist, my affection for that little video-playful pearl, stranded and dormant for so long in the maze of my backlog, has also grown, for reasons that I honestly cannot explain well, especially considering how much do you love productions of this genre (Inside is in my Top 10 of this generation). An error that I finally remedied and that allowed me to put myself immediately - and immediately at ease - in the role of Mono, the protagonist of Little Nightmares 2. In short, I am writing this paragraph partly to make amends, but also because I wonder how many have fallen victim to my own mistake and how easy it is to underestimate some types of productions, able to offer much more than appears on the surface.
This is what is most striking about Little Nightmares: the ability to evoke images, outline situations and grab the audience by keeping them glued to the screen, like a citizen of Pale City under the yoke of the nefarious Signal Tower. This second chapter brings forward some of the topics covered, in a manner like this delicate and brutal, from his predecessor but expands our point of view and offers us new questions, but also "many" answers on the distorted world created by Tarsier. If already in Six's solo adventure the team has shown that they know how to master exceptional narrative skills, all without ever making his characters say a word, here demonstrates that he has made an absolutely unexpected qualitative leap. In an age in which verbiage seems a must when you have the desire to tell, often showing us authors who, as he told Frankie Hi-Nrg: "To write are verbose, to think too synthetic", the Swedish study goes in the diametrically opposite direction, supported by one of the best story-telling of recent years. Perfectly embodying what is called the "show, don't tell", it creates a story full of tension, able to keep the player always attentive, curious, on the string, and at the same time builds an entire world with a rich background and layered, often elusive, cryptic, but incredibly full of charm. Yet, Little Nightmares 2 does not aim exclusively at creating suggestive scenarios and situations only from an artistic point of view, but contains in each of them a food for thought.
Little Nightmares 2 throws us into the middle of the world that exists outside the The maw, putting ourselves in the shoes of the little one Mono, lost in the middle of a wood strewn with traps and lifeless bodies, like abandoned televisions. Having become the small kingdom of a crazy taxidermist hunter, and the prison of Six, Mono runs into the latter and from there the adventure of our alter ego with his covered face actually starts. It is a succession of terrifying, anxious and delusional events, interspersed with a few small moments of tranquility that broaden our vision on the world of Little Nightmares and that offers us various "photographs" of a corrupt and desperate reality but somehow also melancholy, wounded and human, despite everything. Ed it's really impossible to separate game-play from storytelling since, not unlike the last chapter, the two dynamics are indissolubly fused together. It is useless to evaluate the puzzles for their complexity or the platform sessions for the precision necessary in the execution of the commands, if one were to look at them in an exclusively analytical perspective, there would be few brilliant moments but it would also be the worst way to evaluate the playful aspect of the 'experience.
The filter placed by Tarsier Studios makes every game session, whether simple or complex, in a moment full of meaning, always enveloping and magnetic, it follows that the richness of the experience comes out incredibly strengthened and the genuine fun that flows from it is always at the highest levels. Running desperately in the grass to avoid the explosions of a rifle, crouching among the desks of a classroom to avoid the grotesque teacher with delusions of sadism or avoiding the hidden pitfalls in the shadow of an - apparently - abandoned hospital, bring nothing again in the genre itself in terms of playability, but the way in which they are proposed and presented manages to make every moment appear as unique and original. Although some types of situations come back constantly, for example the splendid sessions devoted to escape from the horrors that lurk in every corner of the city, there is never a sense of repetition or recycling. This is certainly partly due to the limited duration of production but, above all, to the capacity of always interpreting every portion of the adventure in a fresh way.
Probably, the lightness of the playful formula will not meet everyone's taste but it would not be correct to see it as a defect, as well as the subtle, but decisive, increase in the general difficulty of the experience compared to the first Little Nightmares, here more voted towards the trial & error that however, it never manages to be frustrating and pushes you to pay more attention and better calibrate your movements. Furthermore, the much criticized parts dedicated to the "combat", thanks also to the wisdom with which they are diluted, they can be difficult and cumbersome - good timing and precision are required, in the face of controls that are not always very clean - but again they embody a choice of development that makes the right tension of those moments, as well as underlining the protagonist's embarrassment in taking up a weapon as big as he is. True, repeat the same fight two or three times it could be indigestible for someone but after having prevailed once you understand the dynamics and rhythms of the same, the game offers the time to position yourself in the best possible way, often necessary considering that in some situations determining the distance of the enemy is not so immediate, and comes to the rescue also a generous hurtbox, ready to give us some margin for error.
Some smudges are still present, a difficulty curve not always calibrated, the already mentioned imprecision of the controls - however minimal and easily controllable - but nothing that could really undermine, or scratch, the quality of the product. Spending a few words about Six in the context of the game, with his AI prepared and precise in almost any situation, the little girl does not stumble or get lost and is always very responsive in helping Mono solve puzzles or platforming sessions. Of course the work that weighs on his shoulders is not so multifaceted or complex but for a game of this caliber it is certainly brilliant and deserves to be mentioned.
The flawless artistic work of Tarsier Studios and, as already mentioned, its mastery in constantly managing to merge it with the gameplay, are the flagship of production. In an even more accentuated way than seen in the forget (dis) adventure, the team manages in a few hours to build a rich and profound context, which bombards the player with questions and composes paintings of rare beauty, perfectly balanced in the context in which they are dropped. It is very easy, I speak from experience, to fall victim to these visual pitfalls and rack your brains in search of a key to understanding each single element proposed. But we talk about nightmares and dreams and not everything must necessarily make sense, yet Little Nightmares 2 never seems to embody images and situations for their own sake and one can perceive that behind every detail there is "something more".
Without saying a word, the game talks about many things, which at work are fragmented and divided into an infinity of different interpretations and compose a web of theories and reflections that enrich even more the work that is trying to frame. It is a tale of insatiable obsessions, of monsters that create other monsters, of a desperate battle against the passage of time and, above all, of loneliness and its ravenous tentacles ready to lead anyone towards madness and despair. The stylistic code is simply brilliant. If the first chapter could seem a little more derivative and "supported" by some artists of animation cinema, with references to Miyazaki and his Enchanted City or to Selick and his vision on the story of Coraline (Neil Gaiman), but also more generally that visual cut that strongly recalls the claymation of the LAIKA studio, in this title the team reaches an extremely strong and personal artistic maturity that from now on will make its own school. Tarsier softens slightly the more grotesque tones and places us in front of fewer characters with an aberrant and disgusting aspect - without abandoning them - and creates more subtle and neurotic horror sequences, which lean more towards Edgar Allan Poe o Lovecraft but which, while presenting and reinterpreting various clichés of horror cinema, they manage to pack a unique and irresistible style.
Little Nightmares 2 thrives on these constantly hovering images between the faint and the overflowing, between the silence and the roar, the sweet and the bitter. The credit is also of a perfect soundtrack in supporting the narrative, with melodies that are now sweeter and more captivating, now loose, nagging and oppressive. The instruments used oscillate between smooth melodies and cacophonic grinding compositions, communicating perfectly with an impeccable sound design, which decisively enriches every situation, perfectly restoring the "aesthetics" of every noise, from the roughest, trailing and subdued ones to the bursting ones. and disturbing.
The only sore point of the product, on a technical level, is the Nintendo Switch version, plagued by consistent aliasing and, in general, by a very mixed and compressed image, which does not destroy the atmosphere but certainly strongly penalizes the general performance. On PC and consoles, on the other hand, the production always shows itself in shape even net of some dirt due to an occasional tearing and some stumbling in collisions. There are small problems on the animations or on some details and elements not really "in focus" but also in this case the artistic work strongly makes up for these gaps, yes visible, but never invalidating. For the rest, the game is fluid and smooth and does not hinder any situation, not even the most excited ones.
Not so Little Nightmares
It's hard to say so arbitrarily whether Little Nightmares 2 is a masterpiece or not. First of all because it usually takes time to be able to boast such an onerous term but also because the discourse - imaginative and otherwise - that it carries out is personal and subjective, albeit objectively treated in a masterly way. Furthermore, I have the impression that in this area we try too easily to attach this term, which slowly loses its meaning and fails to effectively define the beauty of a production.
But the work of Tarsier Studio has created an exceptional product and it is a product that cannot and must not go unnoticed. And the greatest danger is this, as we said at the beginning of the article. The fact that Little Nightmares 2 is a very content game at a production level risks, net of the good response from critics and the high numbers at the bottom of the reviews (which are so coveted but which tell little), that the title will pass as a good product yes, but still less and not worthy of the peaks - or the importance - conquered by triple A and products of other caliber, and here is the potential error.
Little Nightmares 2 is a magnificent and powerful work, and it is perhaps the first true excellence of this 2021 that seems so full of grandiose games on the horizon. Harsh, sharp, brilliant, melancholy, frightening: the story of Mono and Six is a triumph in every respect and, unlike dreams, it does not fade hastily once finished, but remains inside the guts, like a nightmare we have grown attached to. .