Virtual reality is an exciting platform for developers to experiment and give players unique and memorable experiences. Since the PlayStation VR has launched we have certainly had the pleasure of playing through a variety of experiences, however it seems over the last year and a half, things are starting to feel formulaic. Outside the of the horror, sci-fi and first-person shooter genres, you’d be hard pressed to find a full-fledged title that doesn’t implement one of those genres in some way for VR; Polyarc have dared to be different. They’ve dared to be different by not only tackling a different genre not available on the platform, but doing it right, by taking advantage of the limitations of VR and using it to their benefit. Enter Moss, a magical VR experience exclusive to PlayStation VR, that feels like a nostalgic trip through your favourite fairytale, packed to the brim with personality, soul, beauty, comfort, a likeable character, interesting gameplay and ingenious ways using VR to enhance the experience, making it one of the best titles to grace Sony’s VR headset.
The best way to describe Moss is in terms of genre is a sort of isometric action-adventure title with puzzle elements. Think classic Zelda or the excellent Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. The game actually places you in the roles of two characters, the first being Quill, an adorable, yet heroic mouse ready for adventure and to save her loved ones. The game does quite a good job to make you fall in love with her, to the point I think she could easily be a mascot for the PSVR. The second role you adopt is a celestial guardian known as the Reader, who overlooks each level and helps Quill on her journey, and both must work in cooperation to solve the various puzzles in the game. As Quill, you can walk, climb and swing your sword using the face buttons of the Dualshock 4 (think of it as a simplified top-down Zelda). As the Reader, you can reach out using the motion controls of the Dualshock 4 and grab certain objects using the triggers and pull them around. This is utilized for solving environmental puzzles and allowing Quill to progress to the next objective. It’s a clever collaborative system that works brilliantly and provides for some unique scenarios. I had a lot of fun performing actions like holding up bridges while Quill crossed to safety. As you progress through the game, the enemies and puzzles get slightly more elaborate and requires players to coordinate both the Reader’s and Quill’s ability to complete objectives and it is here where the influence from Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons comes into play.
How can you not love that purdy little face?!
Moss does two things well immediately when you jump into its cute little world. The first is how everything draws you in; the beautiful environments, the tantalising score and its protagonist Quill all work in synergy to bring you into its world and it refuses to let go. The green leaves of the swaying trees, the soft flutes playing in the background and Quill’s indelible charm give the game a personality unlike any other that makes you feel like you’re inside a fairytale. The simple yet gorgeous art direction works perfectly within the limitations of VR to create something truly special. Each scene looks like a little handcrafted toybox begging to be unraveled. Polyarc have cleverly used small set pieces meaning there aren’t any draw distance issues. The lack of realism and focus on animated art direction means the aliasing is not noticeable and the overall look of the game sticks with you longer than something like The Inpatient did.
The second aspect that Polyarc has nailed is how comfortable the whole experience is. Referring back to the whimsical world and soothing melodies, which sets the tone for the game going forward. It’s like there’s a voice in my ear telling me “it’s ok, we are here to make you feel relaxed and get lost in our world.” This is a clear objective with the gameplay as well. Virtual reality is a sketchy area, especially on the topic of comfort. Polyarc has decided to make the whole game comfortable, all the way down to its game mechanics and camera angle. Moss takes a top-down isometric view, where each part of a level is a static scene. You are able to lean in, peak and freely look around each scene to your heart’s content and discover every nook and cranny. The top-down perspective also allows you to move Quill around the environment without any potential danger of motion sickness, and strengthens this with its slow-paced nature. At no time are you bombarded with enemies or dealing with some cinematic quick-time event. Everything seems to be set on auto-pilot, giving you ample time to take in your surroundings, the music and the puzzles.
The dual relationship and gameplay mechanics between the Reader and Quill works brilliantly
The story itself is simple enough but is perfect for what it serves: a traditional fairytale adventure. Moss must brave the dangers of the world to save the kingdom from an evil snake, who is attempting to destroy glass relics that protect the realm. You will tread through medieval castles, enchanted forests, cute little towns and desolated shorelines, and each of these fit the perfect description of what you’d expect of a fairytale adventure. As the Reader, you are able to view and explore these in ways Quill can’t showing a sense of scale that is only achievable in VR. There are moments of joy, sorrow, fear and hope throughout, which is expressed perfectly by Quill as she proceeds through the story. The story itself took about four hours to complete and while replayability is really only limited to collectibles, I enjoyed every millisecond of it to the point where I am going to replay it as soon as I finish raving about it in this review.
Magic on a disc
Moss is a celebration of many things. It’s a celebration of VR, showing the player how limitless the possibilities are when you think outside the box. It’s a celebration of nostalgia, bringing together inspirations from our favourite bedtime stories and heroes as well as classical games such as The Legend of Zelda and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. It’s a celebration of fairytales, the fairytales we were told as kids that, for a brief second had us believing in magic. Finally, it is a celebration of the little guy, the one willing to brave against all odds to save and protect the ones we love. So if you have a PlayStation VR, get ready celebrate one of its shiniest gems and play Moss.
Reviewed on PSVR using a PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher