Folklore is important to many cultures, encompassing the people’s stories, beliefs, and traditions. Over time, people have shared these tales and teachings through word of mouth, books, and movies. Video games, too, have the potential to share one’s culture. And that’s precisely what the developers at Morteshka do with The Mooseman, a puzzle adventure based on ancient Russian myths.
Check out my Video Review to see the game in action!
Every aspect of The Mooseman has cultural roots, down to its distinct chalk sketches and cave paintings featuring art based on the Perm animal style. The ethereal backgrounds evoke hand-drawn pictures come to life, and it looks impressive in motion. I was enamored by its simple, yet elegant silhouette design, and even taken aback by some of the more intense imagery. In addition, the Koni folk music provides a wonderful, calming ambiance that amps up once the powerful choir begins singing. I appreciated the native Komi-Permian narrator, who added an extra flavor of authenticity. Altogether, the developers have created an atmospheric world that tells a story and sucks the player into its mythos.
You play as the Mooseman, a mystical demigod sage with the power to see the spiritual world. He embarks on a journey through the three layers of the universe from the Lower World of the dead to the Upper Layer where the ancient gods reside. Although his objective is mysterious at first, you unlock text snippets throughout your journey sharing the background of the Mooseman as well as the folklore behind every creature he encounters. What I value most about this game is its reconstruction of ancient myths in video game form.
The gameplay itself is another story. The Mooseman is a sidescroller, but it’s not quite a platformer. You have no jump button and your primary action is walking…at a snail’s pace. It’s a slow game that intends for you to soak in the sights, evidenced by the fact that you can actually double tap the directional buttons to make your character walk automatically.
Although parts of the game feel like a 2D “walking simulator,” there are also puzzle elements to keep the player engaged. However, most environmental riddles are simple, usually requiring you to switch between the mortal and spiritual worlds. For instance, you often come across pits in the mortal world, but switch your perspective, and voila, a glowing bridge suddenly appears. Conversely, a bright spirit may impede your path, but you can change worlds to make it disappear. More involved puzzles that ask you to press switches and assemble pictures trickle in throughout, but most brain teasers are overly modest.
The exceptions are during large animal encounters, in which you must find a way to either kill or get past a dangerous creature. There aren’t many of these segments, but they’re memorable and challenging, more so than any other sections. They were the cause of numerous deaths during my playthrough. The game is otherwise easy, and I usually died from accidentally falling into pits or not activating my shield in time. Regardless, checkpoints are very frequent, and there is no life counter, so it’s easy to get back in.
The Mooseman is a short game, clocking in at about two hours, but it offers some replay value in the form of collectible artifacts. Upon unlocking them, you can read up on carefully researched Perm history and mythology. It’s a neat educational touch that adds incentive to exploring the small world.
With its strange imagery, ethereal scenery, and calm gameplay, The Mooseman feels like a spiritual journey. Those who enjoy artsy experiences like Year Walk or atmospheric puzzle platformers like Limbo or Inside may find value in this game’s aesthetics. Every aspect has a cultural purpose, reconstructing different mythologies into a playable art form. While The Mooseman seems designed to inspire intense thoughts and feelings, that doesn’t always equate to enjoyable. In particular, its sluggish pace, easy difficulty, and modest puzzles don’t do this short adventure any favors. Regardless, I respect that the developers have birthed a mesmerizing world that shares their culture’s folklore in a truly unique way.
Note: A review copy was used for this article.