If you cast your mind back to E3 2017 and in the lights and drama of the Sony press conference there was an announcement for an unassuming VR game about an adorable little mouse, a game that was snowed under by the goliaths like God of War and Spider-Man. But this game - Polyarc's Moss - has just scurried its way from the undergrowth onto the PSVR, introducing us to Quill the mouse, who faces a big adventure in front of her, and what an adventure it's turned out to be.
Moss is a classic storybook adventure, and at the beginning we're delivered the story via an actual book where we manually turn the pages using our DualShock 4, a little like the opening of Shrek, except instead of Smash Mouth we're treated to a soft and soothing narrator who delivers us the narrative and all of the voices as if we're hearing a bedtime story. After we're told that an evil power has been awoken, Quill's uncle goes off on an unspecified quest, commanding us to stay at home, but of course that's not how our story goes, and we go off on an adventure for greatness.
It was after this exposition that we turned the page to be greeted by a blinding light that took us into the game proper. In Moss the player is simply referred to as the 'The Reader', a mystical power that watches over Quill after she discovers a magical artifact on her travels at the start of the game. We still control Quill just like with any other platformer, using square to attack, cross to jump, and both in unison to dodge. That's about the extent of Quill's own mechanics, but the great thing is that we can use the DualShock to reach into the world and interact with it to help our companion, so we work together to complete our journey.
None of this is too taxing, since this is a game for all ages (well, above the age of 12, which is the recommendation for PSVR), and so the bulk of the challenge is working out how to progress. There are light platforming and combat sections, sure, but the puzzles are the focus, as you'll need to manipulate the environment as the Reader while guiding Quill to the next level, sort of like interacting with a toy set so you can move a figure from one end to the other. This included moving blocks and activating levers, which is made simple by the fact that all moveable objects are clearly marked and never too far away from your reach, so you don't have to lean or fumble with your controller to awkwardly grab things. Everything is smooth and works as it should, making the experience flow that bit better.
The whole experience works as if you're witnessing a theatre production, as you sit facing what's effectively a stage. The world doesn't envelop you on all sides like with most VR games, instead you're in the audience watching the level, except here you can lean in, look around, and interact with it. In a total philosophical conundrum then, you act as both witness to Quill's journey and a part of it at the same time, and it's only in the fleeting glimpses of your floating face in water and Quill's recognition of your presence that you remember you're an active player in all that's going on.
Since you can't rotate the levels at all it'd be easy to anticipate some difficulty getting Quill to move around the various sections, but it's actually very clear where you need to go most of the time, and when your view of your friend is obstructed, her outline is clearly indicated so you can still manoeuvre her around. It means that everything is accessible and easy to explore, which is especially important if you want to discover all the extras like magic dust and pieces of stained glass, which are added to a jar and a template respectively when you return to reading the book.
Although the puzzles are light they'll still leave you scratching your head at times, as it's not just about moving Quill and yourself around but you can also take control of enemies as well, who can shoot, stand on buttons, and explode to uncover new areas and unlock new passages. It's only by using all of your skills together that you can get Quill to the next area and progress, and it's all about working out what needs to go where.
Combat doesn't take centre stage, but there are sections where enemies will come at Quill and you'll need to fend them off, making use of the few combos that she has. While it's incredibly intuitive, with Quill dodging automatically if you press cross after an attack, it'd be nice to have dodge on a different button other than cross and square combined, just for ease of access. This is only really a minor gripe since combat isn't the main focus, but it would've made those tricky situations surrounded by bad guys a little easier to handle.
The world is the biggest part of the draw of Moss though, more so than what you and Quill do in it. In each area you really get a sense of how huge the world around you is, and how small Quill is in comparison, whether it be the large looming hallways of a castle or a deer drinking water in the background, and since you're also a part of it, you feel that scale heavily as you crane your neck to look up at the trees above the forest floor. There's also a sense of distance as well, as you'll often guide Quill onto pathways leading to far off places, and of course, this makes the whole journey feel that much more epic... and at times intimidating.
Quill is the star of the show though, make no mistake, and she feels genuine and heartfelt in her portrayal. Part of this comes through the heartwarming quest to rescue her uncle from the grip of evil, as well as the relationship she builds along the way (including with you, the Reader), but another part of it is how she interacts with you as well. If you lean in close enough she looks at you with her cute beady eyes, and you'll often find her congratulating you when you succeed. There's even a point when you can give her a little high-five, and if that isn't just the most adorable thing then we don't know what is.
It's also worth noting that Quill's animations are particularly impressive too. She's very emotive through subtle means like how she positions her ears and in her body language, and when you take control she also has very smooth ways of climbing up ledges and moving around the world, producing little rolls and flourishes aplenty to match the fairytale feel of the game. Even her sword strokes are smooth and fine, as delicate as the mouse herself, although lethal to those who stand in her way.
It has always been the case with VR games that their brevity is their downfall, and we'd have to agree here too. Quill so effectively lures you into her odyssey that you'll find yourself engrossed and easily finishing her journey in one sitting, as the game is between two and four hours long. Despite the ending making clear that a sequel is very likely, this being just the first chapter in both yours and Quill's story, it's a shame we couldn't get more from Moss, especially since we'd have liked to have seen more of the uncle and other elements like our friend the Starthing.
This is but a minor dent in the well-rounded and thoroughly enjoyable story that was Moss, which from start to finish pulled at our heartstrings and had us engrossed, before tying things off with a lovely little bow at the end. Sure, it could've been longer, but that doesn't mean our journey as it stands wasn't a great one, and we'd even go as far as saying that this is one of the most innovative uses of VR we've seen, combining the medium with existing ideas and platformer mechanics to produce something that felt both fresh and familiar at the same time. We can't wait to join Quill on another adventure, and head out to see what else lies in store for us.
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