Mooseman, developed by Morteshka, is not really a game in the traditional sense. Actually, now that I think about it, it’s not really a game in the non-traditional sense, either. No, Mooseman is more akin to a series of pretty background illustrations accompanied by haunting music that also includes lots of walking.
Lots. Of. Walking.
The quick and dirty facts: Mooseman was released February 17, 2017 on Steam where it holds a 9/10 rating based on 314 reviews. It has a score of 79 on Metacritic and has won several awards, including: “GamesJamUnity” 1st place; “DevGAMM 2016 Moscow” Best Narrative, and “GamesJamKanobu 2016” Best game, 3rd place.
Yep. Bear all that in mind as I continue…
Overall for me, Mooseman appears to be reaching hard for an artistic depth that it simply cannot grasp. Its premise is simple: explore the mythology of the Perm region of Russia during an atmospheric romp through three layers of the Universe. I suppose it does achieve one thing: I now know there’s a Perm region of Russia.
The game begins optimistically enough with nice visuals by one of its creators, Vladimir Beletsky. The graphics have a hand-drawn/hand-painted look to them and are quite nice if a little too muted at times. The sound design, by Mikhail Shvachko, is arguably the best part of Mooseman. It features traditional Komi folk-music as well as ambient sounds that don’t overwhelm you for the most part. The biggest exception to this is during the halfway point where the music increases in volume quite abruptly with no obvious explanation or cause.
For the completionsist, Mooseman features collectibles throughout the game in the form of neon-colored Chud tribe relics, which upon retrieving can be opened in a sub-menu that offers a description of its origin. The relic collecting doesn’t affect gameplay but it does unlock trophies on the PS4 version.
I found that the most interesting aspect of the game was that when the on-screen descriptions of each area was revealed, it was displayed in runes that morphed into English passages as you conquered each section. It was a nice effect but the use was inconsistent as, bizarrely, during major transition points the screen would go black and the runes would appear but never morph into English. These runic descriptions were accompanied by a darkly beautiful female voice that was probably saying important in-game stuff in what I assume was Russian. It’s enchanting but I still have no idea what she told me and, out of boredom at one point, I convinced myself she was giving a recipe on Peanut Butter Cookies. It was a truly magnificent sounding recipe, though, full of emotion and dramatic pauses.
The pacing of Mooseman is ridiculously slow. Remember how I mentioned the walking, earlier? Yeah, some of the gameplay – if you can call it that without cracking a rib from laughing so hard – involves two or three screens of slowly moving your character towards the right edge. I’m sure it was done purposely to fill time and to have a nice stare at the background artwork but all it did for me was increase my agitation. To make matters far more worse than they should’ve been, you cannot make your character walk any faster and there are no pulse-pounding enemies chasing you nor are there any puzzles to complete during these passages; there is only you – walking. You can put your character on a sort of “auto-pilot” by pushing right on the D-pad twice but I don’t advise it as holding down that button is the only way you can convince yourself you are still “playing” a “game”.
Around about the middle of my playthrough, a few things occurred that I did not enjoy whatsoever. I was given a bow and arrow and was momentarily excited by the prospect of having a weapon but that moment passed by so fast that I’m pretty sure it was already headed down the road without leaving a goodbye note before I noticed it was gone. The mechanics of the bow were infuriatingly simple, requiring only the push of a button, alongside the use of unlimited arrows.
After being given the bow and arrow for some reason that was never fully explained, I had to shoot a wolf that appeared onscreen. Then, I had to shoot another one a little farther down. Neither put up a fight in any way, although they did let out a weird yelp that sounded more like a squeaky drawer being shut than an animal dying in pain. It made me a bit sad, nonetheless. I then shot a bird for a collectible. That was a thing that happened. Then, finally, I shot a moose that was just randomly standing there, doing nothing to no one except eating, posing no threat. Unfortunately, the game is laid out in such a way that you have no choice but to shoot the moose or you cannot progress.
But, the most disturbing moment in the game came afterwards: I unceremoniously herded a group of bunnies to their deaths. After the shock of that event wore off, I numbly moved forward onto the next screen. There were a few more “puzzles”, which by that point had begun to feel more like delaying tactics, and I soon found myself astride a hawk-like creature. As we entered the final section of the game, we began what can only be described as the most monotonous, boring Flappy Bird version to ever involve a demon-god and thunderstorms of fire.
Determined to get to the end of this ordeal, I completed this section and as soon as it had begun it was…over. I sat staring at the screen, pondering what I had just experienced and despite not retrieving all of the collectibles, was at peace knowing I would never play this monstrosity again.
If you like games, don’t play this. This is not a game. At best it’s a visual novel that would make a great teaching tool for Russian school children in Perm learning the history of their region. At worst, you kill bunnies.