By Leah McDonald / January 27th, 2021
|Release Date||February 27th, 2018 (PSVR, Steam)
June 7th, 2018 (Rift S, Viveport)
May 21st, 2019 (Quest)
|Genre||Action Adventure, Puzzle, Fantasy|
|Platform||PlayStation VR, Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift S, Steam, Viveport|
Growing up, I loved reading the Redwall series of novels. Originally, bedtime stories author Brian Jacques would tell his kids, the books chronicle the lives of an assortment of woodland creatures who live around the Redwall Abbey in Mossflower Wood. Tales of swashbuckling hero mice, brave badgers, and nefarious ermine remain indelibly written into my memory, and playing Polyarc’s Moss brought those memories rushing forward in one of the most charming video game experiences I’ve had of late.
This VR title, available on PlayStation, Steam, and Oculus, even borrows the storybook framing. As the Reader, you meet young mouse heroine, Quill, as she discovers an ancient Glass Relic hidden deep in the woods near her home. Years ago, her people had been driven from their fairytale castle by evil beings called the Arcane, who coveted the power of the Relics. Her uncle, Argus, and the Sprite Champion managed to rescue several of the castle folk and lead them to safety in The Clearing among the woods, but now that evil is on the lookout for Quill and the Relic she now possesses. Together, the Reader and Quill must make their way back to the castle and confront the Arcane to save not only her people, but also her uncle, who in an attempt to protect Quill from danger, journeyed to the castle himself.
Interactivity is the name of the game in Moss. As a VR title, the game presents Quill’s world entirely in the first person. From the very first moment the player sits down and, literally, opens the book on her story, the game relentlessly presents a fairytale, storybook setting that is surprisingly immersive. Each chapter is book-ended with cutscenes depicted as still images on a page and read aloud by a narrator (who also voices the characters), and the player must flip through the Book of Moss in order to advance the narrative. Gameplay takes place on static screens with lush, detailed environments that you can, in real time, peek around and examine as an entity both within the story and outside its bounds. In fact, looking around the scenery is the only way to find some of the game’s hidden items, and makes solving the puzzles and platforming easier as you navigate Quill through the world. One of my favorite aspects of the presentation is how every time you move to the next scene, you can hear a page turn. Kudos to the sound design team.
Quill, herself, is one of the most charmingly designed protagonists I’ve had the opportunity to play. Like those characters from my Redwall books, she’s an anthropomorphized mouse living in a fantastical world. She carries about a small rapier and satchel, can climb ledges and jump large gaps. But she is still just a mouse, and so her interactions with the Reader are done entirely through American Sign Language or universal gestures. In the storybook sequences with other characters in her world, she speaks, but never to the player outside adorable squeaks and chirps and the aforementioned ASL. As someone who does not experience auditory issues, it’s a charming design decision that gives the interactivity between the “real” world and the game world a thoughtful touch; for someone playing who does have trouble hearing, it’s another way games can help address accessibility. I love it, and I look forward to more games embracing immersive means to connect with their audiences.
For the most part, the game is divided into two modes: platforming and puzzle solving, though they’re highly intertwined. As the Reader, you navigate Quill through a series of locations, helping her overcome obstacles by pushing blocks, turning staircases, and even grabbing the small, clockwork enemies who bar her path. Interacting with the environment requires you to press the shoulder buttons on your gamepad (Moss does not support Move controllers) and move your spirit ball cursor around the screen. You can grab Quill’s backpack and heal her, or grab enemies and move them around the environment, either to give Quill openings to attack or as pieces of the puzzle. Some items, like the blocks and staircases, glow a light blue to denote their interactivity, but you can also use your otherworldly might to destroy barrels and boxes. At the same time, you can control Quill with the left analogue stick, maneuvering her through the puzzles or attacking enemies and obstacles like sticks. (And much like action adventure staple The Legend of Zelda, you can totally cut the grass.) At first, the control scheme felt a little cumbersome, but it’s easy to get used to and ends up making for some really fun encounters, especially in the game’s free DLC episode, The Twilight Garden. Those sequences offered much more challenging enemy encounters and platforming, and were a blast to play. (It’s also not very often you get to stare down a frog, but the DLC delivers that, too, and it’s great.)
Everything about Moss oozes charm, and that includes the game’s score. The music is phenomenal and adds a lot of atmosphere to Quill’s world. The soft, ambient sounds of the woods and the tense, fraught sounds of an encounter mesh together to elevate the storybook nature of the game, and really helped immerse me in this world. The sound design, as well, worked overtime to help me feel like I was in this world alongside Quill. There’s always a palpable sense of life teeming just beyond where you can see. Rustling branches, chirping birds, even a grazing deer all build up this environment, and thanks to the nature of VR, you really get the sense you’re in the world, rather than apart from it. I played the game on PSVR on PlayStation 5, and the increased visual fidelity from a next gen system really helped the world pop. The game is just gorgeous. It’s unlike any other VR title I’ve played, and I am really excited to see what Polyarc has in store for their next title.
Moss is a great game, not only for VR but in general. Quill and the characters she meets are charming, and the storybook nature of this tale are a great hook. The story itself is nothing especially groundbreaking, but it’s well-written, and I love the presentation. The only other animal protagonist I’ve found as endearing as Quill is Trico from The Last Guardian, and that is high praise. I love her. Please give me all the merchandise of her. My biggest complaint is, simply, that the game ends so soon! You can easily finish Moss in about three to five hours, depending on how determined you are to find all the hidden items across the game’s seven chapters, and each chapter is an easily-digestible 20-30 minutes. Since the puzzles always have the same solutions, there isn’t a lot of replayability, but that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying the time I spent with the game and its DLC. This is a must-play for anyone interested in VR and a great showcase for the medium’s strengths.
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