One of the more interesting puzzle platformers of the early indie era was And Yet It Moves. It caught the attention of many due to its simple sketches and crumpled paper look, which demonstrated artistry that few games possessed. It also had an interesting mechanic in that the player had full control of the world and its elements through the power of rotation. Ceilings became floors as you manipulated every surface at every angle. The game was a hit, but surprisingly, it had few imitators. Recently, the Portuguese team at Gojira decided to do its own take with Munin, a puzzle platformer that works well most of the time.
When you start the game, the story seems quite interesting, especially since it's told in the style of an old Norse poem. In Norse mythology, Odin had two ravens, Hunin and Munin, which would watch over humanity and report any news they found. One day, the trickster god Loki decided to transform Munin into a human and strip her of her feathers. To return to raven form and reach Asgard, she must travel to the nine worlds and retrieve her lost feathers.
If you were expecting a grand narrative to come from the setup of the opening cut scene, then prepare to be disappointed. Like the puzzle platformers of yesteryear, the story is window dressing that explains why a Norse motif is being used. There's no exposition given by the characters during the game, and no cut scenes move the story along. The cut scenes only give fanciful descriptions of each of the nine worlds you visit and are short enough that you don't miss much if you accidentally skip them. To be fair, a puzzle platformer doesn't necessarily need a story to drive things along, but when a game decides to use a setting that isn't that commonplace in the industry, it can be a little disappointing to see it go unused throughout the title.
The basic platforming mechanics come with no real surprises. You can walk left or right and jump at a decent height. You can also climb and descend ladders, swim in water at any depth, and push and pull objects. You're also pretty fragile in your new form, so while you can survive long falls and cannot drown, you immediately perish if you touch spikes, flowing lava or a rolling boulder.
The hook is your ability to manipulate whole sections of a stage. At any moment, you can target a section and turn it clockwise 90 degrees, making walls out of floors and turning ceilings into walkable surfaces. Most of the time, you'll take control of only one section, but there are a few stages where you'll be able to manipulate two sections at a time. The only rules to the level manipulation are that you cannot stand in the section that is to be rotated, and the 90-degree turns can only go in one direction.
The rotation mechanic makes for some interesting puzzles when you're just getting the hang of it, but things really open up once you reach the rest of the nine worlds. The different worlds come with different themes, which bring along a new game mechanic. One world has flowing water that needs to be used to compensate for your jumping height and lack of platforms. Another features lasers that hit triggers, and another world uses boulders as moving platforms and as a means to crush walls. As the levels become larger, these new wrinkles add some variety to the game.
Like with most puzzle platformers, there are times when the range of the difficulty hits some pretty sharp spikes and valleys. You may encounter a level that takes you several attempts to figure out only to reach the next stage and find that you can solve it easily on the first try. It seems like a necessary evil of the genre that is a little less tolerable when one death in a stage resets everything, from section rotation to the number of collected feathers. It also becomes less enticing when you hit stages that seem impossible to solve, but it's a nice feature that you can choose to go to another world and return to the troublesome stage later. Again, these are just some of the pitfalls of the genre, and the lack of any kind of hint system can be off-putting.
The sound for Munin can be appropriately described as moody but calm. The soundtrack exhibits a sense of serenity that fits the atmosphere and never makes you feel like you need to hurry, regardless of how dire the situation may be. It's hauntingly beautiful material even if it doesn't get stick in your head long after the game is finished. The effects, on the other hand, display a different kind of effectiveness due to minimalism. There isn't much there except for the footfalls of your steps, the landing of jumps, and the rolling of boulders. Nothing is too overwhelming to become distracting.
Graphically, the game is hit-and-miss. The backgrounds are all presented in what can be best described as a moving watercolor style. Each element is recognizable but slightly blurry to signify depth. It is also bordered by a light pencil/charcoal border to make it look like an illustration, and the limited animation makes it feel like old drawings have been colored and given life. The foreground elements look fine but are noticeably less detailed, preferring function over elaborate form and looking slightly plain in the process.
The major graphical weaknesses are in the particle effects and Munin herself. For the former, they are probably the least detailed things in the game. Anything liquid like water and lava comes across as globular instead of a realistic fluid. As for the latter, Munin is stylized, so the animations are acceptable, but her constant stares toward the screen are a little unnerving since her expressions are static throughout the game. Finally, the border indicating exactly where each level section begins and ends are so light that it's very difficult to see, especially in stages where the background is light.
As a whole, Munin is fun. The gimmick of world manipulation is done well, and each level uses the mechanic to its full potential with some clever puzzles. The game length is nice, since it gives players plenty of levels to solve, and the different themes ensure that it's never long before a new mechanic is introduced to test the players. The presentation could be a little better, especially since it squanders the interesting setup it has, and like most games of this ilk, some of the puzzles can be maddeningly difficult, potentially scaring away casual puzzle fans. If you don't mind a high level of challenge, Munin is an enjoyable game.
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