Ever since its debut back in 2017, Little Nightmares has stuck around in our memories like a traumatic childhood event, thanks in no small part to its unholy cast of Frankensteinian fiends and wretched reprobates. These horrors need not hide in the dark; their grotesque idiosyncrasies and unnerving auras are plenty enough to make us cower and keck all at once.
With Little Nightmares 2 out this week, there's thus no better time to look back to the monsters of Tarsier Studios' toy box survival horror series, from the dreaded Granny to the comical Twin Chefs, and perhaps even peeking beyond to some of the new creatures appearing in its upcoming sequel.
We spoke to narrative designer Dave Mervik and producer Lucas Roussel to find out more about how these big nightmares came to be… oh, and consider this your first and final spoiler warning for the original Little Nightmares.
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Affectionately referred to as "Roger" by Tarsier, The Janitor is the first antagonist that Six has to contend with in her escape from The Maw. Blinded by what appears to be his own skin flaps folding over his eyes, players will remember The Janitor most notably for his long, spindly arms, which were scarily good at pinpointing Six's exact location at any one time.
"It does exemplify what Little Nightmares is all about," says Mervik of Roger's extended ligaments, "which is the exaggerated way that kids see the world, like these terrifying authority figures, or people who seem larger-than-life in their nightmares who just have total control over their destiny. There’s all these primal fears that kids process in a different way. That’s what we say for all of the characters in Little Nightmare you encounter; there is this stretching and twisting and distorting of the characters that you see."
Mervik describes Little Nightmares' mid-point villains as the game's "most literal interpretation of greed and consumption", and he's not wrong. The culinary twins who prepare the banquet for The Maw's visitors are a wretched display of gnarled flesh and muscular wheezing, their peculiar mannerisms often leaving much to the imagination about their true nature.
"The thing that always bothered me about them was the scratching under the facial skin," says Mervik. "It was just too much! I don’t know who to blame for that one, but it really got to me. And there was something about it that really spoke well about the stuff that’s under the surface."
"The moment I love with the Chefs is when one of them is outside having a ciggie. That’s this real moment of humanity that anyone who works that hard can relate to – any chance you can get to have a smoke or any kind of break, you’ll take it. So you make this connection with them. These aren’t completely of another world. These are people. You feel for them."
Head to the Little Nightmares Subreddit, and you'll find dozens of fan theories about The Lady, a ghostly Geisha figure who poses one final obstacle in Six's hellish getaway gauntlet. Mervik admits he has a definitive, canonical backstory for the character, but refuses to reveal it, instead revelling in the mysteries that have kept player's postulating ever since.
"It happens in other media, doesn’t it?" he says. "People make interpretations, and there’s nothing worse than when the one responsible comes out and says, 'This is what I mean.' I don’t want to hear what the director was trying to do, other than watch the film that they made, because that’s what they’re giving to people."
"So, of course, we have to know what we’re doing, otherwise it would just be a rambling mess, where we just throw stuff at a wall, and say, 'Interpret that.' But it’s about striking a balance between giving people enough to run with, and think about, and not giving them so much that they stop thinking, and go, 'Yes, please. Thank you. Next piece of content!'"
A creature featured exclusively within Little Nightmares' Secrets of the Maw DLC, not everyone will have had the misfortune of coming up against this literal water hag. As the Runaway Kid, players must navigate the flooded depths of The Maw while avoiding The Granny's subaquatic predations, as she stalks her prey like a wrinkled, humanoid shark. According to Mervik, the team wanted to challenge players with a unique kind of threat for the first act of the game's three part expansion.
"You want people to have different things to play," he says. "In this case, water was kind of central to it. We always want to find something new, and whatever we decide to do gameplay-wise, it has to fit story-wise as well, and mood-wise. So, yeah, we’re always pushing ourselves to have things that feel coherent and upsetting."
The Granny is also one of the few monsters who the player directly kills, and Roussel teases that Little Nightmares 2 will explore this idea even further: "I think the second game offers an interesting standpoint in that regard: whether we kill our pursuers or not. Because we definitely play with that question. Do you have to kill it? Or can you simply escape it? You might have the choice…"
Moving on to Little Nightmares 2, The Hunter will be our first taste of what kind of enemies are in store for Tarsier's sequel. He's a dark, twisted take on Elmer Fudd; a reclusive killer who likes to play taxidermist with his victims.
"He's very brutal," admits Roussel. "As usual, the team is amazing at doing the right build-up of the character in the rooms that you visit beforehand. But as soon as you’ve met him, there’s this amazing shot of him ripping off the skin off of this… thing, and then that’s it. It’s just brutal force. Violence. That’s what I think it does best. He's a bloodthirsty killer. He’s out for you. You’re his prey now."
"It’s reminding people as well," adds Mervik, "because they’re going from the first game, which was inside the whole time, and now you’re outside. It’s just reminding people that that doesn’t make any difference as to how you’re going to feel in this game. You go from the lovely wind whistling through the trees to, as Lucas says, being prey."
The Thin Man
We don't know much about the overarching antagonist of Little Nightmares 2, but we do know his name. The Thin Man, like most of the sequel's villains, was first spotted in one of the portraits that don the walls of The Lady's quarters in Little Nightmares, and it appears as though he holds a mysterious connection with our sequel's protagonist, Mono. Who is he? What does he want? And why's he so thin? Mervik is, of course, saying nothing.
"You shouldn’t know anything about him now," he tells me. "That’s what the game’s there for. You meet these characters when we want you to meet them, and find out what we want you to know when the time comes. So, yeah. With all these characters, we’ve known about them from the start. And then it’s just kind of telling the story in the best way possible. I can’t wait for you to meet him! He’s a fantastic character!"