(Pocket-lint) - If you're seeking proof that videogames are about way more than shooting people in the face, you could do a lot worse than check out Little Nightmares 2.

Despite only being between five and six hours long, it manages to be by turns scary, cute, inventive and thought-provoking, all the while providing plenty of distinctive and often challenging puzzles.

Arthouse horror

The first Little Nightmares game, released in 2017, put its developer Tarsier Studios firmly on the games industry map and garnered a number of awards.

The sequel, Little Nightmares 2, doesn't mess with the formula it established - but positively throbs with the confidence of a developer that knows it's onto something unique.

As in the original game, it combines puzzle-solving with platform-style gameplay, taking in stealth and hair-raising chase sequences, and even stretching to a couple of thoroughly idiosyncratic segments that essentially amount to boss-battles.

At its heart, it's a puzzle game, but its gothic and often threatening vibe - rarely but brilliantly punctuated by uplifting moments - set it far apart from the puzzle-game norm. That said, it will feel quite familiar to anyone who played the first Little Nightmares game.

A new face in town

This time around, you also control a small child, called Mono, embarking on a quest for freedom and liberation. Mono's journey starts in a swampy, somewhat foetid countryside area, where he swiftly hooks up with Six, the protagonist of the first game.

Bandai Namco

Escaping from a shotgun-wielding adult - seriously, all the adults in the game are scary, Fantastic Mr Fox this isn't - the pair stumble into a beyond-dystopian city, and must make their way through localities including the creepiest school and hospital you will ever encounter.

You can't control Six, but she comes in handy as a co-operative partner, offering leg-ups so Mono can reach otherwise inaccessible places, and catching him at the end of gaps he wouldn't normally be able to jump over. Plus, she provides an emotional wrench whenever the pair are separated, and close observation of her behaviour can produce hints about how to solve some of the more head-scratching puzzles.

Minimalistic marvel

As in the first game, Little Nightmares 2's controls are very minimal: Mono can run, jump grab and, at times, use items like a TV remote and a torch.

Bandai Namco

He can also use weapons, including axes and bits of pipe, although not exactly in the manner you would expect if playing an action game. Because they are adult-sized, they are too heavy for him to wield with any dexterity, so he drags them around behind him, and has to work his way up to each strike, so timing is paramount.

Details like that bring an incredibly tactile feeling to the game, a sense which is enhanced by superb sound design and music. The music would adorn many a horror movie, while the ambient sounds create a chilling atmosphere and, sometimes, contribute to the puzzle-solving that allows you to keep moving forward.

Rewarding the observant

Little Nightmares 2 is packed with puzzles that are wildly inventive, vary according to where you are in the game, and are extremely memorable. At times, you will find yourself embarking on periods of head-scratching, and the game definitely rewards the observant, but there's a lot of satisfaction to be had when you figure out what has to be done in order to progress.

Bandai Namco

Despite its wordlessness - Little Nightmares 2 contains not a single word of dialogue - it still manages to cleverly convey a story, and its overall approximation of the disturbing nightmares we've all experienced is punctuated by moments of uplift and even cuteness.

As you work your way through the city, you discover an adult population transfixed by whatever beams out of the screens of their televisions, to such an extent that if you turn one TV off, they will move to the next one - or if there isn't another one at hand, pursue you relentlessly. Which triggers all manner of reflections about being in thrall to whatever is broadcast to us, no matter how poisonous it might be - a very topical theme.

Verdict

Although roughly twice as long as the original game, Little Nightmares 2 clocks in between five and six hours, so it still isn't hugely substantial, but the presence of hats that Mono can wear hidden in off-the-beaten-track areas that you might well have failed to explore in your first play-through provides a certain amount of replay value. 

If you appreciate games that strive to create a unique ambience, harbour ambitions to be seen as art rather than mere entertainment, and have a thought-provoking agenda, you'll struggle to find anything that fits the bill better than Little Nightmares 2.

Traversing a world of nightmares has never been so much fun. Little Nightmares 2 is a thoroughly entertaining, truly nightmarish work of art.

Writing by Mike Lowe.