Back in August, I had the chance to play Little Nightmares II, and in my preview I talked about the uneasy trust between main characters Mono and Six. I theorized it could present a new kind of fear for the series--if you can't fully trust your partner, then you're never really safe. But having now gotten a chance to play another preview of Little Nightmares II, I'm beginning to wonder exactly how much Mono and Six's partnership factors into the game.
The new demo takes place in the Hospital environment, which seems to pop up much further into the game than the Forest area seen in the first demo--Six has her trademark yellow raincoat in the Hospital, something she didn't have prior to Mono meeting her in the Forest. Both Mono and Six need to go down an elevator, but it doesn't have power. A nearby panel reveals that they'll need to find two batteries. I can't go through the door on the left because it needs one battery to open, but the door on the right is already ajar. My path is clear.
After going down a hallway, Six hoists Mono into the next room. And just like that, she's cut off from me. I can't bring her with me and must face the future horror alone. I was very surprised. The earlier demo contained puzzles and a chase sequence where Mono and Six needed to work together in order to ultimately get away from this freaky Hunter, which seemed to imply that Little Nightmares II would solely focus on brand-new "co-op" puzzles, ones where you had to figure out what both you and your NPC partner had to do in order to solve them. But in this recent demo, I was largely solo.
Which, I want to clarify, isn't necessarily a bad thing. I loved the Hospital environment. It's a much spookier segment of the game than the Forest, and one that leaned on its environment and player expectations to create some satisfying swearing-under-your-breath scares.
Acquiring your first battery involves climbing onto tables and sliding under benches to outrun and ultimately outsmart a sentient disembodied hand that scurries after you like a predatory spider. With that first battery, you can unlock that door to the left of the elevator, where you're once again separated from Six and thrown into an area filled with mangled mannequins that come to life when the lights turn off. Your only means of stopping them in their tracks is to turn the lights back on or, barring that, shine your flashlight on them. But you can't shine your flashlight on every single one at once and you occasionally need to shine it in front of you so you know where you're going--all the while, the creaking groans of the mannequins can be heard as they shamble after you.
It's good stuff (assuming you're like me and the sensation of mounting dread is your thing), but the whole experience left me puzzled as to why Six is even there. Once you do manage to go down the elevator, there's a sequence when that hand comes back, only this time it's brought friends. So while Six tries to pry some planks off the door in front of you so the two of you can continue, you have to pick up a pipe and fight the hands. But here's the thing: Six can't actually remove all the planks without your help. So it's not a moment where you're holding off an unbeatable threat while you're hoping, praying that your partner can hurry up. Until you smash all the hands (killing them, I hope; those things are disgusting), drop the pipe, and help Six pull off the last board, you can't continue. It's a moment that would have played out no differently had I been on my own and just been unable to pry off the boards until I'd defeated the group of enemies. If I left the first demo feeling uneasy about whether Six would stick with me, I walked away from this second demo wondering why I was bothering to keep her around.
So my biggest takeaway from this demo is just why. Why is Six here, beyond acting as a connection to the first game? Why is Little Nightmares II a game about two heroes when it plays just fine when you're on your own and occasionally makes you feel like a babysitter when your partner is around? This Hospital segment felt so much scarier, so much more satisfying to overcome in comparison to the Forest arc--and a part of me wonders if that's because I was mostly on my own, which is the case for most horror games. All of this, of course, assumes the Hospital level isn't the exception--the Forest environment could be the norm. But I've now had two very different experiences with Little Nightmares II, and there's no indication as to which serves as the primary gameplay loop.
Regardless, I enjoyed what I played, and I'm looking forward to seeing exactly how Little Nightmares II shakes up upon its release, which has been pushed back to next year. The game is currently scheduled to launch on February 11, releasing for Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and PC. Xbox Series X|S and PS5 versions will come out sometime in 2021--if you buy Little Nightmares II for Xbox One or PS4, you can upgrade to their corresponding next-gen versions for free.
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