Moss: Book II Review
The Squeakuel Has Landed
VR’s ‘little mouse who could’ is back prancing across our headsets, and we couldn’t be much happier. With the original Moss finding an appreciative audience back in 2018, and a free DLC add-on, Twilight Garden arriving a year later, it certainly feels like a while since we last heard a squeak out of Polyarc. Easily picking up where they left off, as well as expanding the scope of the game in meaningful ways, Moss: Book II is a strong VR platformer, made with warmth and imagination.
You control Quill, a warrior mouse tasked once again with breaking curses that have befallen the kingdom of Moss, and battling the evil forces of the Arcane. Beautifully scaled, playing Moss: Book II feels like peering through the windows of a medieval Sylvanian Families playset as you scamper through fantasy castles and ruinous caverns. Using the DualShock instead of Move controllers, Quill’s actions are assisted by your own intervention using gestures and the trigger buttons — it’s a seamless fusion of first- and third-person action, which is less an unsettling fourth-wall break than it is a proud companionship forged over a shared journey.
If the original felt limited in its setting, Moss: Book II travels further afield into expansive snowy landscapes and industrial workshops full of fire and steam. The new biomes aren’t breaking any new ground here, but are gorgeous in VR — moving around in my seat, or standing up for an aerial view of the environment is not only visually rewarding, but also uncovers hidden collectables that wouldn’t normally be visible from a neutral viewpoint.
Improving further on the gameplay, Quill will collect new weapons and abilities over the course of the game, prompting new solutions to combat encounters and switch-hitting. The first new item, after the ol’ reliable sword, is a Xena-style chakram. This metal Frisbee keeps the Arcane at a distance, while a charged up power shot will stick into walls until recalled to your paws, in order to smash objects from normally unreachable angles.
Even the puzzles have been punched up for this follow-up title, with bigger and more complex sequences needing to be figured out in order to advance. The drip-feeding of new puzzle types can be a little slow at times, but by the final chapters you’ll be guiding Quill through new gravity-inverted environments, and combining all of your accrued abilities. Moss: Book II is the best sort of sequel — keeping the good bits, smoothing out the rougher sections, and keeping an eye firmly on providing a bigger and more expansive experience.
In comparison with a blockbuster VR platformer like Astro Bot Rescue Mission, I’m pleased to say that Moss: Book II fares incredibly well. Sony’s own first-party mascot may still have the edge in terms of polished, colourful fun, but Polyarc have made a big step forward in exploring the gameplay opportunities presented by playing in first- and third-person at the same time. More than just waving at Quill, or sliding the odd puzzle piece, this time around your relationship feels closer, and the experience is a lot more rewarding because of it. By the end of the game you’ll be tossing different weapons to Quill for her to catch, and timing your use of new magical abilities to synchronise with her traversal — you feel like a team. These new interactions not only feel intuitive, but force a faster (but rarely frantic) approach to puzzles and combat alike.
Your role, that of ‘The Reader’, is further fleshed out in the story itself, as the lore examines previous Readers and their place within the fantastical world of Moss. An initially familiar plot continuing Quill’s ‘hero's journey’ takes some detours in unexpectedly zesty directions, cribbing from myth, legend, and even the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As in the first game, you return to a monastic library in between chapters, where larger plot beats are told by leafing through an illustrated tome, lit only by guttering candles; the shifting sense of scale and place achieved by transporting you between the ‘real’ world and the ‘storybook’ world suits the VR experience perfectly.
Whilst the Playstation VR tracking feels tighter and more responsive than the previous entry (minor issues — par for the course — were fixed with a quick recalibration from the pause menu), the pacing does leave a bit to be desired. The roughly five-hour playthrough suffered early on, as the first third of the game is hamstrung by basic, repetitive areas with little growth. The early environments are also repeated from Moss: Book I, and my biggest fear was that Book II was feeling more like another DLC rather than a game experience in its own right. With a relatively short run time, I appreciate that it can be hard to get that right without alienating newer players, but returning fans will find themselves tapping their feet a bit until Moss: Book II is allowed to really open up.
With Sony’s PSVR2 on the horizon, this may be the last time we see a Moss entry for this generation — but with an eerie post-credits stinger leaving the way open for a further chapter, Polyarc have proven that their fantastical mouse adventure has still got the chops (and the undeniable sweetness) to keep their Readers turning the pages.
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