The Mooseman is not as much a game as it is an interactive museum exhibition. Taking cues from the art style of Limbo, you’re taken on a whirlwind tour of Permian culture and lore, encompassing Finno-Ugric ethnic groups and Chud tribes. If you are unfamiliar with the history of these indigenous peoples, don’t worry. Like Never Alone, the past is uncovered via a mixture of discovery and natural progression as you wander the three layers of the universe.
As the titular shaman, you must leave your home and commence your journey, although the reasons for doing so could have been made far clearer. The Mooseman thrusts you forward — or rather, eastwards — since the gameplay consists mainly of holding the right stick down and tapping a button at any given point depending on what you encounter. On your way, a spirit “eye” is activated at the press of a button, revealing otherwise unseen pathways which you must traverse and barriers which you can navigate.
If it sounds simplistic, it is. The challenge comes from trying to understand the layout of the land and the creatures you encounter. These start out straightforward enough as you sneak past a huge sleeping beast, but soon you’ll need to utilise a second button to raise a shield and fend off aerial attacks from malicious spirits. There is no jumping, no running, just a slow, methodical plod across monochrome landscapes, punctuated by the occasional huge animal which you need to converse with or avoid entirely. The visuals aren’t unique, but they do have a striking hand-drawn roughness to them which fits with the historical vibe, like an interactive cave painting.
Your progression unlocks entries in a notebook which detail the history of the Perm tribes, expanding on their mythology and the game’s heritage. Nothing special is needed to access these other than moving ever onward, but another collection of artefacts can be picked up from harder to reach places that mirror real world pieces currently residing in a heritage museum today. While these are a nice touch, other than learning when each artefact dates from and the image it relates to (a human, a bird, and so on), it feels like a lightweight addition solely there to gamify the experience. The lore is more interesting as it charts the path of the Mooseman and the mythical animals that his people believed in, though given their obscurity compared to, say, the Greek myths, some players may struggle to absorb the reams of fantastical text about where a particular higher being sat in the hierarchy, or why a six-legged animal was important to a given tribe.
While there are rudimentary puzzles, switching your Mooseman vision on or off accounts for the majority of the solutions, though it is incorporated in different ways as you proceed. A deadly ravine may be covered by an innocuous branch which transforms into a slithering snake which follows you when you switch on your vision, and reverts back to a handy bridge when you turn it off. Otherwise impassable areas can become permeable or solid depending on its usage, while a generous checkpoint system of statues means that you’re never far from safety should you die.
These gameplay elements are where The Mooseman will divide its audience. And while it’s otherwise a simplistic stroll on land (and occasionally air), the plodding pace and repetitive nature of the puzzles may strain patience and given that the reward for completing them is unlocking further mythology, a lot of time will be spent reading journal extracts. However, the menu is the area most in need of QA, as navigating it is far more taxing than anything you’ll experience in the game itself. Buttons you’d associate with returning to a previous menu are alien here, moving to the latest page of your journal is a chore, and some areas of the game caused such significant slowdown when trying to open entries that a restart was the only way to continue. Add to this the bewildering decision to make “New Game” the default setting upon loading rather than continuing where you left off, and you’re left with an infuriating user experience that detracts from the interesting and often ethereal journey that Morteshka has created.
The Mooseman won’t be for everyone. It’s steeped in ancient and obscure lore to which the game itself plays second fiddle, but for anyone interested in learning about a different culture for an hour accompanied by haunting music it may provide an interesting indie distraction.
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