I think it’s fair to say that this year alone, we’ve seen the arrival of countless indie games flying in from all directions. Some hit and some miss, but for the most part, we’ve been fortunate enough to see that the majority of them have ranged from passable to decent. The Mooseman is an atmospheric 2D adventure game that’s shrouded in mystery and intrigue, a game that certainly sits in the latter of the above scenario. Don’t get me wrong, it does have drawbacks but when all is said and done, The Mooseman is worth its weight.
Based on finno-ugric culture of bygone pagan times, players take on the role of the titular Mooseman, a shaman that has the unique ability to see more than that of any standard being, or more specifically, to see all that is otherwise hidden to the mortal eye. Moving through three layers of this universe, players will encounter a range of spirits and wildlife that will either help you on your way, or get in you way. The theme is a very spiritual one, but don’t write this off at face value, because there’s more than meets the eye, ironically.
The game, which takes inspiration from Perm culture, starts you off in a quiet and calming slumber as you’re surrounded by members of your clan. Some brief story introductions, written in English but spoken in Russian, will play out for a few moments before the meat of the matter unfolds. The plot tells that long ago, the world was created out of an egg-shell by a god known as Yen; the lower world created in the depths of the murky ocean, the middle world created for men to dwell, and the upper world made for the ancient gods to reside.
In the layers of these creations, multitudes of spirits reside, guarding their secrets. Thus, the player will journey through all of the worlds of this ancient myth, solving the mysteries of the finno-ugric tales and locating artifacts of Chud’ tribes. Now, I did have to seek some of this story setup on the internet because in honesty, the game doesn’t do tremendously well at relaying it. Sure, the story is there, but I found it not to be entirely clear nor understandable. Nevertheless and undeterred, I continued my journey with The Mooseman.
I wont throw out any story spoilers here because The Mooseman isn’t a very long game, which is just as well because the the price-tag, although generous, sits quite well with the content you’re getting in return. Regardless, the game drip feeds you its plot at a decent pace. The gameplay’s loop generally consists of moving left or right through the game’s linear levels and has you collecting some deviously well hidden artifacts, or solving a range of puzzles and challenges throughout, all of which leans on the Mooseman’s unique ability.
You begin by travelling along a path towards a tree. Here, you’ll be granted the moose skull, a skull that gives you the power to see the realms of the living and the dead. This feature is the game’s main mechanic and is used quite well when it toys with the game’s platforming sections, its enemies and its puzzle aspects. By simply pressing “A”, you’ll don the skull and will instantly be able to see new layers of whatever level you’re playing. It’s a function we’ve seen many times before, albeit in different forms, but one that I think works well within.
For instance, in one section early on in the game there will be specific ledges that you wont easily be able to cross when you’re not wearing the skill, but by wearing it, you’ll see a large bridge appear from an alternate realm that you can use to bypass the platforming. Now, I want to strongly make a point here. The Mooseman isn’t simply a game of realm-shifting to find a way forward, it’s more intricate than that. The difficulty curve is also well met, giving players a gradual climb in complexity as they journey deeper into the adventure.
Enemies and bosses will come at you periodically, such as the first boss encounter; a rather large bear. Not too dissimilar to how Limbo functions, players will largely need to bypass specific foes. The aforementioned bear, for example, requires little effort other than utilizing the mechanics of your skull. Still, it’s a neat addition, that much has to be said. Players will gain more powers that will help in a range of different ways as progression is made, and there’s also a shield to rely on that will protect Mooseman from one-hit attacks.
The puzzle sections of the game don’t demand too much perseverance or insight, in fact they’re quite simple if you’re a puzzle-buff. Though, they do help to break up the pace of the game regardless. The puzzles tend to either feed into the skull feature, the environment, or a mixture of both; lure creatures to a specific spot to climb on them, uncover new pathways from other realms and so forth. Simple stuff in the grand scheme of things, but well structured all the same. Checkpoints (or totems, specifically) tend to be quite generous.
These totems are littered throughout the game and you’re able to return to the adventure and start from any checkpoint that you’ve hit previously. The previously alluded to artifacts often describe animals and figures, and once collected, players can check out some varying text to get a deep-dive into the game’s inspirational material. It helps, of course, that The Mooseman controls and responds wonderfully. There’s no technical nor performance issues to contend with, making for a fluid and well developed experience.
The visuals and the audio also get a special mention here. The soundtrack sits well with the theme of the game and really goes to great lengths to set the mood, but it’s the visuals that stand out the most. Limbo seems to be the backbone inspiration here, but that’s not to say that The Mooseman lacks originality. On the contrary, The Mooseman goes on to offer up some gorgeously detailed environments, which when grouped with the field-changing skull feature, gives the game a solid level of visual depth and splendor. It’s truly eye opening.
Inspired by Perm culture, The Mooseman offers a stunning journey that’s well paced, gorgeously designed and thoroughly engaging. For its cheap cost, the game does a good job as far as its gameplay diversity is concerned. It would have been nice to see some more effort spared for its localisation, and although it’s short, it uses its runtime well to relay a decent blend of platforming and puzzle elements throughout.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.