Moss was one of my favourite VR games ever made. Its magical world, its loveable main character Quill, and its simple yet clever mechanics created an enchanting experience unlike anything on either console or VR. As magical as that experience was, it felt a little too simple, a little too short and ultimately, felt like it was only slightly more than a proof of concept. Even still, I awarded it a 9 back in 2018 and it has been one of my highest reviewed VR games to date. Those who have finished it knew a sequel was on the way, and while it crept out of nowhere, I was especially excited to dust my PSVR headset off one last time. For the most part, Moss: Book II is a perfect sequel, building on the foundations of the original, addressing any previous limitations, doubling down on what made it special while also expanding on it to make it feel like a complete and rewarding adventure. There are moments where the magic fizzles away due to the limitations of Sony’s 2016 VR headset and controllers, but these complaints are mouse-sized compared to the full package, which all things considered, is something truly special.
Moss: Book II is hard to describe in words and while I tried my best in the original review to describe what it is, I’ll try to sum it up quickly here before jumping into what’s improved. One part of the game can be compared to the older top-down entries in The Legend of Zelda series. You control Quill, a courageous and adorable mouse equipped with a trusty sword. The game sees her run, dodge, slash and scurry her way across beautiful environments and puzzle-filled dungeons, unlocking new gadgets along the way. The other comparison Moss: Book II brings to my mind is Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, which is essentially a co-operative experience controlled by a single player. While you control Quill using the face buttons and sticks on your DualShock 4, your actual self is present in the world and known as the Reader. The Reader acts as a spiritual guide for Quill, and you can physically lean in and interact with Quill while aiding her in puzzles, healing her, helping overcome environmental obstacles or defeating enemies. You can control Quill independently and simultaneously while you interact with the things around the environment creating a truly unique experience.
Set in a fantastical world taken straight out of the pages of your childhood fairy tales, Quill picks up where the first game left off, and again you’ll be tasked with taking down the forces of evil aided by a colourful set of characters. The tale is given voice by a dedicated narrator, solidifying that bedtime storytelling tone even more. While the writing is nothing to write home about, it’s perfectly serviceable in the context of a fairy tale given life, and has a consistent and endearing charm.
Same tiny mouse, bigger sequel
One of the big improvements to its predecessor is the expansion of the world and environments. The first Moss game was beautiful but was limited to a forest and a castle environment. While the sequel has those too it expands further, taking you to a wide variety of new locations including snowy tundras and lava-filled mines. Some of these new places have wondrous vistas that had me staring in awe for a few seconds. The art direction is truly magical, and every inch of this world is gorgeous to look at. The visuals themselves are simple, yet colourful, and eye-popping with a special attention to detail on its animation and effects work. Every little thing combined together really brings the world to life.
As the Reader you will have an external view of each set piece, and are able to peak behind corners (by physically leaning) and under bridges from a static camera position as you guide Quill to the next section of the level. These views feel like looking at a little toy set diorama filled with animated characters coming to life. It never quite gets old, and you never really want to look away. The only downside to the visuals is some aliasing issues due to the low resolution of the headset and the PS4. I won’t hold the game itself responsible too much as I can imagine a higher spec machine like PSVR2 or the various PCVR headsets would produce a much clearer image with a lot more detail. All things considered though, despite being held back by the aged hardware, it is still one of the most beautiful games available on PSVR.
Speaking of beauty, another key attention to detail is the incredible animation work. Whether Quill is running through long grass or enemies are closing in for an attack, Polyarc has done an outstanding job making everything feel alive. However, Quill is the star of the show and the loving attention to her animations reflect that. Basic actions like scurrying up a cliff or dodging an enemy look flashy, yet realistic. As Quill cannot talk herself, she uses a lot of sign language (at times translated by the narrator) which is incredibly emotive and appreciated giving a spotlight to those in need of accessibility. Even one-off actions have love poured into them, like when you move a platform as the Reader while Quill is on top and a surfing-like animation from Quill initiates as you carry her to her destination. This is in addition to the usual stuff from the first game like patting her or giving her a high five, and it all culminates in fostering a deep connection to the murine hero and the game itself.
Surprises around every corner
Another aspect of presentation Polyarc nails is the score. Soothing melodies comprised of flutes, pianos and strings fill the halls and environments you run through, carrying the right degree of emotion as Quill overcomes the various challenges. There’s not much else to say as this was also really good in the first game, and while 3D audio is a big thing in VR, I haven’t played many VR games with a stand-out score. Moss: Book II’s soundscape slaps though.
In terms of gameplay, it’s important to reflect on the original game. The first title in the series had some cool ideas but it was criticised for being shallow and simplistic. Quill or the Reader never received any skills or upgrades, meaning the puzzles and combat were limited to the skills you were equipped with in the beginning of the game. Combined with the short runtime, it also meant there wasn’t much variety. The sequel addresses these head on, and not only are there various regions with different environments you can travel to, but Quill and the Reader both learn new moves and gain new weapons to mix things up and add a few layers to the gameplay. For example, instead of just a sword, Quill now has access to throwing discs and a hammer. These weapons not only add to the combat, but they are also used to solve puzzles as well. Additionally, the Reader learns their own unique skills. One of the early skills allows you to grow vine bridges to help Quill cross to places she couldn’t initially reach. New tools and skills also mean new enemies and while there isn’t a huge amount of variety here, it’s still a boost over the original game and there are a few more bosses now to keep things interesting.
That doesn’t mean the game is that much longer than the original. I beat the first Moss in a couple of hours, and it only took me about five to beat the sequel, get all the collectibles and find all the armour pieces (something that was also not in the original). On one hand I think it’s a perfectly fine length, but on the other hand it still leaves me wanting more. That is a good place to be in, because like the first game, Polyarc have room for improvement and a potential follow-up sounds even more exciting than before.
I did run into a couple of technical bugs and issues while playing the game, however. Most of these were isolated in that they did not happen again after they resolved, and I was able to correct them after a quick checkpoint restart. However, there were a couple outliers that put my camera view in an out-of-bounds area in a the level, meaning I could not see or reach anything, forcing me to restart the whole chapter. There are other times where a door will open, and Quill will just stop moving, or another scenario where a boss that is supposed to arrive doesn’t. Again, most of these can be rectified by reloading a checkpoint and it doesn’t feel too disruptive to the experience, but there were more bugs in this than in the original game from memory.
Magic in every moment
The other technical issues come from the tracking. For the most part, the tracking works surprisingly well for a PSVR game and this has probably something to do with the use of the DualShock 4 as opposed to the horrendous Move controllers. Polyarc made some smart decisions keeping the motion control actions simple and intuitive, but it’s not perfect and there were times I was wrestling with the tracking to get something to go where I wanted it to. It appears that a lot of this comes down to the tracking system on the PSVR itself and a version of this game on a headset using more advanced tracking would likely not have this problem.
Aside from the above, I think most of the complaints I’ve mentioned (while small) can be addressed on something like PSVR2. The higher 4K resolution will clean up the jaggies in the resolution while the inside-out tracking and improved controllers means most of the actions as the Reader should be seamless. There could be other benefits too. Haptic feedback and adaptive triggers on the VR sense controllers would be a perfect fit this game. Interacting with objects, pulling out bridges and even patting Moss could feel more kinetic and add a nice additional layer of interactivity building on the immersion that VR is known for. Additionally, I noticed that going between rooms leaves a black screen for about two to five seconds. It’s not a dealbreaker or anything but when you are quickly travelling between several rooms it starts to become noticeable. Running off an SSD though would basically eliminate this issue completely. I hope Polyarc are considering bringing both Moss games to PSVR2 because they would benefit incredibly from the upgrade.
There is no secret that I am just spellbound by Moss: Book II. Polyarc knew what it had with the first game and hit the ground running by creating an experience that retains the spirit of the original Moss but expands and improves on it in every category. I love Quill, I love the environments and levels, I love the art direction and music, I love the fairy tale-like atmosphere, I love the duality of controlling both Quill and the Reader and the clever little puzzles you solve together, and I love the expanded gameplay elements the development team has added. It knows what it is, and it does not try to be anything else and it’s clearly proud of that fact. Quill deserves to be the mascot for VR gaming as a medium appealing to all ages. While there are some little hiccups along the way, I’m confident that most of them can be alleviated with PSVR2 and PCVR ports. In either case, Moss: Book II is probably my favourite VR game of all time and I cannot see many people being able to resist its charm. I am really rooting for Polyarc here because I want to keep visiting the world of Moss and go on adventures with Quill until I am old and grey. Even reaching beyond half a decade, the PSVR is worth taking out of storage for one last swan song.
Reviewed on PSVR using a PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- March 31, 2022