A unique and artful celebration of Russian folklore.
Russia has a rich history of folklore that’s present in its art, its music, its dance and theatre. But rarely is that folklore explored in games.
The Mooseman changes that. Developed by a small team in Perm led by Vladimir Beletsky, it’s based on myths and lore of the various Perm ‘Chud’ tribes, inspired by collections at the Perm Historical Museum. You play as The Mooseman, a mythological character with the ability to see objects hidden from the mortal realm. He must travel through the three layers of the universe, taking a shard of light from the underworld to the upper world.
Aesthetically, The Mooseman is a triumph, albeit too dark to play in the Switch’s handheld mode. It is a largely monochromatic world of shadows and silhouettes, of strange creatures and a druid-like hero, of curling mists in dense forests and dank caverns decorated with mysterious runes. In motion each hand-drawn character comes alive – not just The Mooseman but the apparitions and monsters around him.
The music, too, is stunning. It combines rich choral pieces with rustling sound design, traditional Russian instrumentation and folk melodies. Together with the visuals, it creates a haunting mood that’s gothic and frightening, yet solemn, stark and uniquely Russian.
But how does it play? This is a video game after all. And it’s here that The Mooseman falters. Gameplay is, ultimately, incredibly simple. So simple that double tapping the directional buttons causes the hero to walk automatically through the environments. This does allow you to soak in the atmosphere, but it’s not a game that will challenge you.
With the press of a button, The Mooseman dons his moose headpiece that allows him to see the invisible. It’s with this ability that most of the puzzle solving lies – there is almost no other way to interact with the world. Advancing through the world (always left to right) requires little more than stepping on switches in the correct order or using your ability to sneak past giant foes. It’s hardly complex and as the game barely lasts a couple of hours, there’s little room for development or gameplay creativity.
Throughout the world are idols that, when lit, reveal more details about the myth. The story isn’t always easy to follow, however, seeming more obtuse than mysterious. And it’s disappointing that the story isn’t integrated into the gameplay – you’ll spend as much time reading through menus as you will traversing the world.
The lack of depth to The Mooseman is a letdown when its presentation is so beautiful. But as the camera pans out to reveal more of this stark world, the choir soars and the hero trudges on doggedly to complete his quest, it’s hard not to be impressed by this artistic triumph.