Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Under The Moon" builds a burning bridge.

This week, the ZX spectrum-styled indie game, "Under the Moon" made it's way into the Basement and caused a bit of a stir. From indie developer MNWS (Kodachrome, The Ruins of Machi Itcza, Super Phobia), UTM picks up where his earlier game "Nondevicer" seemed to leave off. Aside from the in-out functions of Nondevicer, Under the Moon maintains the gameplay style, sprites, and overall feel of it's predecessor.

Players begin the game as an unnamed hooded figure who seems to be having some romance issues. Dead silence evokes a strangely haunting feeling as you pass a woman who refuses to look in your direction, then an overpass with a view of the crescent moon, then into the bowels of a red dungeon where some delightfully eerie chip tunes begin to play. At first the game seemed a little droll. The hooded figure walks and jumps but players aren't given an attack option so really the name of the game becomes timing and balance.

As players advance, checkpoints become available, and rooms become harder. Death is not permanent but UTM will start the hooded figure at it's last save, creating incentive to move to the next room. At first, checkpoints are frequent, then they are every so often, then they are border line divisive. The relatively short browser-game (created in only a week) boasts about 4 different types of puzzle-rooms and quite honestly becomes very addictive. That said, I wasn't sure if I was playing in hopes more would happen around the next turn, or if I was legitimately into the game. Maybe a combo of both. During the last dungeon, the hooded figure collects four pieces of a heart key, opening a door back up to the over world. Once there, the game ends abruptly in a dreamy courtyard and a complete halt at a red wall. Sort of anti climactic. I felt as if MNWS didn't expect people to put up with the game until the end, so no real ending was written. THEN I found out that I could walk on the stars in the courtyard, make it back into the castle and have myself a proper ending. Phew, that was a close one.

The whole experience was a dreamy one. Under the Moon had me peacefully smiling, putting off dinner for a while in hopes of finishing strong, and reminding me of something I couldn't quite put my finger on… Then one of our resident nerds at the Basement asked me a simple question that shattered things a bit, "Are you playing l'Abbaye des Morts?! I love that game!"
Shit. Was I?
The playing style, the hooded figure hero, the early home-computer aesthetic, the mildly threatening projectiles, and slightly off-putting 8 bit music… Even the moon in which players were supposedly under seemed to be lifted from l'Abbaye (see above img), stretching the limits of the term "homage" to near breaking point. It seemed that the reason I enjoyed Under The Moon so much is because I had played it's more complex elder, l'Abbaye des Morts, a few years earlier. 

Homage, rip-off, learning experience, etc… The message boards weren't kind to MNWS. The more I read, the more it became clear that I wasn't the only one who drew the parallels between these two indie games. The trouble is, I still LIKE Under the Moon, even if it seems a lot like a game I already played. The whole puzzle-dungeon thing speaks to us here at the Basement. Quite honestly, if the developer were to elaborate on Under the Moon ---maybe add some enemies, a few weapons, a horrific sorcerer boss at the end of each dungeon, possibly even a town with NPC's and an items list--- they would be sitting on a golden experience. MNWS has a lot of room here to grow this game and I sincerely hope they do. Not just for curiosity's sake, but because Under the Moon will live in l'Abbaye's shadow for the rest of it's existence if they don't figure out a way to mix it up a bit.
"Under the Moon" gets a 3/10 from Wicked Basement.

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