Y’know “Sometimes You”? No? Not surprising.
The Russian publisher/developer has been going at it for a while, scouring Eastern Europe for the best games that they have to offer. So far, his hunt has struck gold once or twice, with the charming double bill of Where Are My Friends? and Deep Ones, but as for the rest of his titles, they see-saw between decent, bad, or Alteric. Let’s see where The Mooseman falls on the spectrum.
This is a new walking simulator, disguised as a platformer-lite, from the Morteshka team; a two-man team composed of Vladimir Beletsky and Mikhail Shvachko. That’s all I know unfortunately, and as far as I’m aware, this is their debut project that originated from a 2015 Game Jam, where The Mooseman was meant to be an endless runner. Three years later, and the end result is… Phew.
We play as the titular Mooseman, who has the ability to walk the worlds in-between the real world; The Lower World, and The Upper World. From there, you take yourself into a journey of self-discovery and motivation that cannot be spoiled directly. The game is one to two hours long, and to reveal anything about the Mooseman’s adventures and his new friends among the way, would be a heavy spoiler.
Gameplay is pretty normal, even going so far as to extend beyond the usual games in this format. You walk from left to right, read myths from the Perm chud’ tribes, and find yourself in a Russian tale of old. There’s minimal combat, minimal platforming, and all the while you’ll be met with some beautifully executed hand-drawn vistas, that pull off perspective wonderfully.
Along the way, what you can do in the game expands in subtle ways, some of it not for the better. There’s a bit of collectible hunting, some of which are an arse to find and ruin the flow, and there’s a certain section where your patience will be tested, mostly due to the sound design. We’ll get to that in a minute though, there’s bigger fish to catch here.
Considering that you’ve seen the screenshots above, I know that you’re thinking that the game could be easily written off as a LIMBO rip-off. Tone those thoughts down though, and you’ll find that the duo of Vladimir and Mikhail have put enough of a spin on the formula to elevate itself beyond the usual slew of crap LIMBO clones. This is something genuinely special, and from the heart.
Vladimir and Mikhail have truly created something special here, a visual and audio-based journey of wonder and magnificence. What you get for around seven bucks is an almost perfect blend of mystique, horror and abstract poetry, all in the form of Russian lullabies and folklore. To explain what happens would ruin a lot of the experience, which is why this review is going to be so brief, in terms of in-game description.
Part of why it excels beyond what should be its fellow grave-mates, is that it still knows how to be a video game, without subtracting the player from the immersion with clunky mechanics… for the most part. Any challenge that does come in this slow-burn of a platformer, isn’t detracted by the slow controls or tone. This is going to sound really corny, but this is both a video game, and an experience; an experience in the same way LIMBO is.
Some of this comes down to the set pieces the duo have pulled off. We’re not just on a walk here, we’re traversing different lands, we’re watching the world itself bow down to our feet, usually without a fanfare. The life of the Mooseman is a quiet one, despite what the sound design may tell you, and that’s one of the few problems this game has.
Not entirely though, the music of this game is great, and immediately sets you in for the experience you’re about to have, with the main menu music being utter perfection. A sole woodwind instrument plays as wildlife relishes in the background. The visual background of a dense and foggy forest is the perfect visual partner, as this cold, almost nihilistic aesthetic kicks in. However…
There’s no audio options in the menu, just a choice between a few languages, and that becomes a problem every once in a while. Like, you’ll just be walking through these snowy woods, and all of a sudden, the landscape has changed and you’ve got what sounds like an Auto-tuned moose screaming for life in the background. Doesn’t sound like much of an issue, but it makes you jump when the game is so effective in keeping you still with suspense.
Along the journey you take, you will also come across totems that tell the story of the Mooseman, and stories relating to the Mooseman’s higher-ups. Most of it is written superbly, with a few hiccups that might have come from the translation, but almost all of it has a proper campfire vibe to it, and narrating it was a blast with pals wandering in to watch.
Really, aside from the audio problems, and a few finicky issues with precision gameplay, this game is immaculate in its design, coming closer to LIMBO than any of its contemporaries ever has. While that may have not been the objective, it’s hard not to shake the feeling that the duo looked at Playdead’s seminal title at some point during development, and honestly? It doesn’t matter now, we know that The Mooseman is good. Great, even.
This is a wonderful piece of tribal Russian abstract art that the duo of Vladimir and Mikhail have created. It’s deep, it’s brooding, it’s dark, it’s mystical, it’s a trip, it’s an absorbing and unnerving trek through unknown wilderness, it’s just a sublime journey throughout, with minimal issues foreseen. For around seven bucks, you can’t go wrong with this, and Morteshka have to be applauded here.
So well done, lads.
This review of The Mooseman is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
A LIMBO clone that elevates itself above the rest of the pack.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.