"I've come as far as an Ort."
You won't understand the meaning of these powerful words until you play The Mooseman for yourself. It is a game that takes you on a journey through a mythological land based on Finno-Ugric tribes from Russia and eastern Europe. You'll learn about culture in this game I had no inkling of, and it was truly magical to experience.
The Mooseman is developed by Morteshka based in Perm, Russia. The game has been out on Steam since last year, and is making its way to all consoles on July 17, 2018. In it, you take on the role of the Mooseman, who has the mystical ability to see a hidden, mystical world naked to the normal human eye. This creates a journey that is spiritual and deeply cultural.
The thing that drew me in the most was the art style. It is inspired by the Perm Animal Style, an ancient culture's art form that looks primitive and scribbled, almost like a cave painting. There are quite a few jaw-dropping set pieces that'll leave you awestruck at the sheer beauty of the game. The game is as much a work of art as it is a game, as you'll traverse through the different sections of the world within the culture the game is based on. The music, too, is phenomenal. It's folk music directly based on the Komi people, found in Russia and close-by countries.
The gameplay is like a 2D walking simulator with lite puzzle and platforming elements. Double-tapping the arrow key to the right (which is the direction you'll always be walking in to progress) allows you to auto-walk. As you walk, you can activate your "spiritual senses" or some such and see the world in a new lens. Doing so will reveal white, luminescent spirits or paintings on trees and the cave walls that are beautiful and mysterious.
Activating this sixth sense isn't just for show. In some instances there will be a gap that you cannot cross. Pressing the space-bar will show that a log behind you is inhabited by a spirit, and walking behind it will cause to move left or right and lead it to cover the gap so that you can cross it. You see that rock over there? It's not a rock, it's a crab that you need to lead to a switch on the ground. It's all very simple. The puzzles are not complex by any means, and I don't think they are supposed to be. They're there to play on the theme that you are part human and part god.
The puzzles are relatively slim, and the game is also extremely short. It took me a little under 2 hours to beat the game, and most of it comprised doing puzzles, looking for collectibles and reading lore. There are totem-like objects that reveal tidbits about the culture's mythology. Some of it is creation myth, and others help you understand the journey that you are taking. As you progress you'll begin to understand more about what your role in this world is. All of this lore is non-essential to beating the game, but your enjoyment is dependent on how invested you are in the history.
The collectibles I mentioned are found in hidden areas throughout the game. They are based on actual objects found in - what I assume - Russia and its surrounding areas. There are tidbits of information that talk about these artifacts. I was more interested in learning about this culture that I was, until playing this game, unknown to me.
Some of the game's set pieces are spectacular, but this is mostly when you're just walking, taking in the atmosphere. Where it should really be top-notch is in the boss encounters. These "boss encounters" are more additional puzzles than standard boss fights. In one instance, there is this giant spider inside a cave, and I have to avoid its legs by activating a protective aura on my staff while I walk to certain switches. I had to figure out the order of these switches based on the cave paintings on the wall, all the while activating my spiritual sense.
This boss "fight" was not very compelling. Really, it was more tedious than anything else, and didn't seem to fit well with the rest of the game. I understand that these encounters are based on creatures of the mythology, but this isn't Limbo. You're walking at a slow, meandering pace the whole time and having to dispose of this boss feels weird. The rest of the encounters were similar. I won't spoil them, but I will say there was one boss at the end of the game that was extremely tedious and frustrating more than anything else.
The only other problem I can really point out is that the transition when moving from one zone to another is not seamless or smooth. It's like on an old digital camera, switching from one static picture to the next. This seemed strange, especially when the game puts so much emphasis on art.
As I said, the game is very short, but it's also $6.99. I look at it as paying for a piece of excellent art and learning about a culture in an entertaining way. For that price, you can't go wrong. The Mooseman doesn't require much interaction, but its atmosphere, art and music kept me engaged to finish it in one sitting.
Austin reviewed The Mooseman on Steam with a code provided by the developer.