The Mooseman: Beautiful, Eerie, Yet Unsatisfying

Ever since I have begun buying digital games, I have found no shortage of interesting, artsy looking options.  Beautiful they may be, but more often than not, these games prove why you shouldn’t judge something based on looks alone.  The most recent example of this is The Mooseman, an extremely intriguing looking game that is meant to explore the ancient mythology of Finno-Ugric culture.

On the surface, this game looks absolutely amazing.  The online description says the graphics were inspired by “Perm animal style”, the soundtrack Komi folk music.  Judging from looks, and sounds, alone, this game is stunning and unforgettable.  The problem is…this is supposed to be a game, too, and that is where The Mooseman is sorely lacking.

You control one of the seven Moosemen, and you begin your journey in the Lower World of the dead.  Your trek eventually takes you through the Middle World of mortals and finally to the Upper World of the gods.  With a press of a button, you can see things that are otherwise hidden from the mortal eye, and later on, you also get a light that can protect you from harm.

Screenshot by The Duck of Indeed

The atmosphere of this game is very eerie, and being able to see things that were previously invisible is definitely unsettling.  Again, the whole tone of the game is spot-on.  If only I could say the same for the gameplay.  First off, your character walks very slowly.  Secondly, this is supposed to be somewhat of a puzzle game, but the puzzles were usually very easy and rarely ever extended beyond switching between seeing the visible and the invisible.  Frankly, I was right to be concerned when, early on, the game told me I could press a button to walk automatically.

The other problem I have is the way the game’s lore was presented.  From picking up artifacts to reading new bits of the story from idols, the mythology and gameplay are disjointed because pretty much all explanation is done through bits of text in the pause menu.  So you walk ever so slowly for a bit, reach another idol or artifact, pause and read the new bit of text, then continue on your journey.  It also doesn’t help that the pause menu is rather cumbersome to navigate.  Normally you can pause a game and then press a button (like B or circle) to back out without actually needing to select Continue.  In this game, you have to scroll to the bottom every time you want to exit, and the button you press to leave the pause menu affects the game as if you weren’t paused at all.  (Also, at one point, I was unable to interact with the menu at all and was worried my game was frozen for a good minute or so.)

I understand that mythology can be complex.  But if you’re going to try to incorporate it into something like a video game, it needs to be, well, actually integrated into the game, not told in separate snippets in a pause menu.  I have played plenty of games where a story is conveyed wordlessly through fun and interesting gameplay.  GRIS and Inside are two of the best examples.  If The Mooseman had taken this route, I think it could have made for something really amazing.  Even if the mythology has to be simplified just a bit to be told through gameplay, I think people would have found the experience interesting enough that they may want to learn more about it later.  (I could totally see a theory video online where someone who has researched the mythology could explain the whole journey in even greater depth.  From my own experience, this has often given me a greater appreciation for what I just experienced, not less.)

Screenshot by The Duck of Indeed

The game took me just under 2 hours to complete.  It is normally sold for $6.99, though I got it on sale for roughly $2.50, which felt more fair considering the short length.  While The Mooseman is extremely unique when it comes to presentation, and the mythology was fascinating, I couldn’t recommend it based on gameplay.  The whole experience would have made for a better animation than a video game.  Sadly enough, I think this game may have taught me to not be so easily swayed by looks alone.

Video from YouTube User: Virtual Bastion

Who else has played The Mooseman?  What did you think of it?  Did you find the pause menu to be as frustrating to navigate as I did?  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!

This post was originally published on Virtual Bastion on June 22, 2021.

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