Mooseman is an intriguing side-scroller that has been out on PC and Mac for a little over a year but we’re here to review the console versions that are coming out later this month. Mooseman has won over a lot of PC gamers with its hand drawn visuals and deeply researched setting. But does it have what it takes to make it on the, somewhat less discerning, console market?
To start with we need to talk about the setting. This is a game that is heavily influenced by the history and mythology of the Finno-Ugric tribes of the Urals. The game was developed by Morteshka, a team of two industrious Russians based in the Perm area. This team uses the knowledge harvested from the Perm University to reconstruct the rich mythology of the peoples who lived in the region. The result is a puzzle based adventure game with a remarkably detailed and compelling world.
You play as a shaman with the power to see beyond the physical world and into a kind of spirit plane where all manner of demons and sprites live in their own fascinating otherworld. You do this by donning a moose skull that seems to allow you to perceive this spirit world. A simple press of the X key on the PS4 does this for you and after a swooshing noise you get to see the spirit world, daubed in white paint and full of skeleton men, giant bears, spider gods and helpful hawks. It is this double world that makes up the majority of the gameplay and usually forms the basis of the puzzle solutions. You spend the majority of the game walking from left to right, only pausing to either read and decipher certain totem poles that are scattered around the world or to solve a puzzle.
The totems provide an insight into the Perm culture that the game is reconstructing with references to their world creation myths and tales of the great beasts that reside in it. Fortunately the game translates the written language on the totems for you so that we can partake in this mythology. Unfortunately there are spoken verses that punctuate each chapters which are recited in the native tongue and provided with no subtitles. I found this unfortunate as without translation these moments served only to remind me that this was a completely alien culture and it allowed me no further insight into it. The cutscenes may as well not have been there at all in that case.
The puzzles are generally entertaining although they can be quite repetitive and they are often quite easy. The basic gameplay is essentially walking to the right and occasionally shifting to walk over spirit bridges or goad a mythological beast into assisting you. There is a protective shield you earn later in the game which contributes to a timing based defence mechanic against marauding ghosts but the only real test of your real time controls comes in a one off boss fight where you must fly away from a giant whilst dodging incoming black clouds. The boss fights are actually one of the finer points of the game as each one offers a new challenge and a different way of thinking will always be required.
That being said, you can’t get away from the fact that this is quite a repetitive game that ends up being mitigated by its short length. I found that this was more of an (excellent) interactive educational tool than a game. There’s even a feature where you can double tap the right button so that Mooseman will walk all by himself and you can pretty much put the controller down. This lack of input takes me out of the video game experience a little but I have to say I still played through Mooseman in one sitting without getting horribly bored. I’m a historian before anything else so that may go some way to explaining my engagement but that isn’t the whole story. Mooseman has a fascinating mythology to tell you. For a small price and a few hours of your time you might be as intrigued as I was.