By Jacob Grindstaff / September 11th, 2020
|Release Date||October 25, 2019 (Steam), September 10th, 2020 (Switch)|
|Genre||Action Platformer, Metroidvania, Puzzle, Story Driven|
MO:Astray is a game about a blob and its quest through an unknown place, on an unknown planet. The hook itself sounds promising. Traverse through numerous biomes wondering why your blob has gone astray, while trying to solve what happened along the way. When I was offered the opportunity to review MO:Astray, I had to hook my claws into it and was unprepared from the beginning how much it would wrench my heart. As always, I like to start my reviews off with this one question for the readers: Is this game fun?
From the very beginning of the game I knew I was going to fall in love. The intro screen, the tutorial afterwards, everything about this game so far touched my senses in a way that hasn’t been done in a very long time. The art style, the sound design, and the atmosphere behind the game screamed the following to me: this game is a passion project. So, I started a new game and selected from one of the four difficulty modes, Adventure (Hard).
During the tutorial, it starts off in a barren land. You’re a grey blob in the middle of a pool of water surrounded by various reeds and fauna. During this tutorial you learn how to move, jump, and stick to walls. To jump, you have to aim your blob first, and jumping has arcing in it, so your blob falls after a bit of time. The way the controls are designed feel good from the start, and I had no reason to swap any of my controls to different control settings. It’s a standard system, though here are your starting controls:
- Move: Left Joystick or D-pad
- Aim: Right Joystick
- Jump: ZL
That’s it. Super simple, yet works very well for storytelling purposes in the beginning of the game. Later on, you get more abilities and upgrades that allow you to do more with your button scheme and setup.
As soon as it throws you into the first chapter, you’re greeted by a guide. However, she’s just a voice and recalls her past memories as you traverse through the game. The blob gets more physical features, some ears, a sign on its head, and a heads up display. At this point, the game actually starts.
Moving on, this game teaches you about hidden secrets from one of the earliest scenes – there’s blue blob fragments that cover specific areas. If you choose to follow these blob fragments, you’re greeted with your first Memory Fragment. These Memory Fragments are what help support and enforce the game’s story along the way as you try to piece together what happened to this place. Memory Fragments also give you a larger health pool when you collect five. You can view these Memory Fragments at any time under the “data collection” option in the pause menu.
Travelling through this abandoned area, you learn that the game isn’t nearly as innocent as it seems. There are traps, puzzles, and a mysterious pink fauna that kills you immediately upon touching it. Further on, you start to encounter Infected – previous inhabitants of this world that have turned into plant zombies. The game promotes the idea that you’re easily killable and does it well in the first scene with one of these Infected. Remember how I said that the early controls work for telling a story? This is what I meant. When the game limits you on your options and allows you to grow, it’s usually conveying a reason or purpose behind it. In this instance, the purpose is to give you anxiety as you’re running through the world.
Thankfully, if you die in this game, you respawn immediately at the beginning of the last checkpoint you triggered. This is really nice, because you will die a lot in MO:Astray – it’s no slouch when it shows its difficulty. That isn’t to say that you’ll stay weak forever in MO:Astray – your blob DOES progressively get stronger and stronger.
Upgrades – there are quite a bit of them in this game, though I’m not going to spoil any of them excluding the first ability you get because it’s one of my favorite additions to a game, ever. Once you’re about fifteen percent of the way through the first chapter, you get the ability to jump on enemies’ heads after a mini tutorial by accidentally jumping into a experimentation vat. Mo can read the monsters’ memories, how they lived, view flashback cutscenes depending on the monster, and who they were before whatever disaster happened.
MO:Astray, in a subtle way, reminds you that these monsters were once living beings with their own thoughts, families, and ideals. The information it gives is their last thoughts before death, what career they had, their name, age, gender, and “resurrection permits.” These resurrection permits come in handy later when solving puzzles. It also doesn’t shy away from collecting these as there’s an entire log in the pause menu, under data collection, called “Monster Memories.”
A few of these memories throughout MO:Astray sent complete chills down my spine. Furthermore, these Monster Memories help to further piece together the lore and the disaster that fell upon this land.
Mo:Astray is difficult, but in a good way! The platforming is fun and interactive, and incredibly challenging based on what difficulty you chose to begin with. The game changes platforming sections if you play on different difficulties, with easy and normal having some traps removed. You can see how many times you’ve died by selecting a chapter and hovering over individual areas – I died a total of 341 times on Adventure (Hard) difficulty.
Variety-wise, the game does very well in showing the differences between each individual area as well as individual monsters, puzzles, and platforming traps – this variety helps keep the game fresh and alive throughout the entire experience. MO:Astray has a keen eye for game design as no one area felt unfair, even though I died literally hundreds of times throughout my playthrough. Game design in general for this game is well done, as it leads players naturally to secret areas and rewards trying different methods to progress.
Continuing on game design, let’s get to the Bosses. The way MO:Astray tackles bosses is a way I’ve never seen before. Each boss has its own puzzle mechanic to take down each bad guy. Without spoiling too much, the first boss relies on you attaching yourself to enemies so that it damages itself rather than you attacking it. These types of puzzle mechanics are used in every single boss fight and lasts until the end. Personally, the fact that MO:Astray stays consistent with the puzzle action theme throughout the entire game is incredibly impressive to me.
I need to mention this for any puzzle solving fiends – there’s a TON of puzzles in this game. All areas include one or more puzzles to solve to progress. One of my favorite features about this game is how it has the ability to hide secret areas with puzzles. Furthermore, there are Monster Memories, Memory Fragments, and even secret cutscenes behind expanded portions of already area progressing puzzles.
Each individual area has its own aesthetic to it. Chapter 1 is all about broken and destroyed labs, and the further you progress, the more that chapter’s biomes change. Later on you’ll have the opportunity to see gorgeous fauna filled zones, pristine labs, and corpse riddled zones as Mo blobs his way through this horrifying place.
Speaking of aesthetics, did I mention that this game is literal eye, ear, and sensory candy? Every individual scene looks like a rollercoaster joyride in a theme park of despair. Art style, sound design, and story design combine to make one of the most atmosphere rich platformer games I’ve laid my hands on. Seriously, the team did a knockout job on making you feel like you’re far away from home in an unnatural hellscape.
The game is deceptively cute, because even at points of extreme sadness, looking at Mo filled me with determination. I’ve attached an art gallery to showcase the artists’ hard work, below.
MO:Astray’s story is a gripping tale that will have you on the edge of your seat from start to finish. I won’t go into spoiler detail, but the gist of the story is that something went horribly wrong with experiments. Mo is now traveling through the said aftermath of these experiments. Learning the mystery of what exactly happened to whatever place you’re on is absolutely delightful. Not only is the game filled with tons of hidden lore and goodies to show what happened, at the end of every chapter you’re given flashbacks. These flashbacks are in comic book form and each of them gives you crucial information. For those willing, collecting all the Memory Fragments awards you with a different ending than the normal one. The story clicks in place as you progress, offering a satisfying conclusion to an already wonderful game.
What’s great about the story is that you can completely miss out on story details in your first playthrough, so the game encourages you to run through each chapter again via chapter select. On my playthrough, I completed the story 100% of the way through. However, I missed quite a bit of Monster Memories, so I decided to go grab those as well.
Because the game supports your ability to hoard information like a sponge, reading through everything in the Data Collection is a treat in itself. I spent a good hour or two just reading every story and piece of information.
After completing the game at least once, you get “Speed Mode” and a few other secret goodies. Speed Mode is a mode specifically for speedrunning the game so you can compete with other players’ scores online.
I went into MO:Astray expecting a fun, enjoyable platforming experience after watching the incredibly well made trailer. I wasn’t disappointed, and this game has more than driven my expectations past their limits. From the first boot up of the game, to the very end, I was filled with an exuberant joy I haven’t experienced from a platformer in ages. The only negative that I have for this game, is that I wish there was more. I didn’t want to stop playing it! To answer the question, “Is this game fun?”, I’d gesture to say that this game is incredibly fun and more than worth its current price point at $15 on Steam and Switch. I personally clocked in around 13 hours of gameplay, with a few hours of story reading.
MO:Astray is one of the best games I’ve played in the past 5 years. I mentioned this earlier, but this game truly feels like a passion project by developers that truly care about game design, as well as making the player feel the weight of the situation Mo has to go through. Personally, I’ll be recommending this game to everyone who loves story driven platformers – Archpray Inc. knows how to deliver.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
action platformerGame ReviewMO:AstrayPuzzle gameStory DrivenSwitch