It sometimes feels like the virtual reality video game market is dominated with horror titles. Or at the very, least horror shooters. Just about every time you slap on that VR headset, you can expect some creepy thing to run screaming at you with something sharp and deadly in its gnarly mitts.
The gamemakers at Polyarc, however, have decided it’s high time to experience the gentler side of this immersive gaming genre. “How about an interactive fairytale?” they ask. And I for one was more than ready to say, “Yes, please.”
The digital download game Moss is indeed something altogether different in the VR realm. And from the first moments when you walk into its huge Harry Potter-esque great hall and begin paging through a large ornate storybook, set on a dark wooden desk in front of you, you can’t help but smile over the game’s appeal and charm.
The book itself is narrated by a warm-voiced female storyteller who lays out the tale before you and gives voice to each of its characters. There is a magical kingdom at the heart of this narrative—a beautiful, mossy-green land of lush forest and blocky stone that’s filled with sentient anthropomorphized critters. They’re so adorable that you can’t help but coo out an “aww” or two—even if you’re more of a swing-your-ax-and-spit type.
Of course, what would a fairytale be without a bit of threat to overcome? In this case it is something called the Cinder Night. On this dark eve many years before, great mechanical beasties attacked the kingdom’s castle heart and drove its inhabitants out into the forest to hide. It’s right about at that stage in the tale, though, that we swoop into the story itself and meet the yarn’s hero, an itty-bitty, big-eared mouse named Quill.
This teeny cutey accidentally finds a magical glass relic that was lost during the kingdom’s long-ago conflict. That relic connects her with you and gives her the power to be the unlikely champion who’ll set things aright. I say “connects,” because none of this works without your complete partnership with Quill.
The game casts you as The Reader, a spectral onlooker who manages everything from a birds-eye perspective. Not only do you control Quill’s movements as she runs, jumps, scrambles up blocks and fights her way forward, you also push, pull and prod things around to help her solve the environmental puzzles at hand.
That may sound like fairly typical play, but it’s much more than you might imagine. You’re not just an unseen passive bystander here. No, you’re very much a character in the tale now. The narrator, Quill, and other characters all recognize your magical lend-a-hand presence. And your merry mousey partner waits for your aid in creating a route forward.
Quill communicates with you in in her sweet style of sign language—pointing things out to you or motioning you closer in to give you a clue from her perspective if it appears you’re stumped. And sometimes your furry pal will react with a startled squeak to you peering closely over her shoulder, or celebrate with you if you’ve nailed a particularly tough puzzle, waving you in close for a high five or the like. It’s a cool bonding facet of the game—especially when combined with the immersive VR—and it makes the going feel incredibly realistic and organic.
Along with environmental challenges to solve, Quill must sometimes pull out a tiny sword to give battle to clockwork foes in her path. There are beetle-like enemies, crabby critters that shoot, and lamp-like things that swell up like a blowfish and explode. Quill must best these baddies, or you can pull them here and there to actually help in solving the puzzles on hand.
Later, there are even bigger, more-deadly looking things to make your way past—such as a giant glowing mechanical python. But even if Quill takes damage, she never really gets permanently injured. If she’s zapped by an enemy or you accidentally guide her over a precipice or into a watery trap, the cute mouse always reappears unscathed at the entrance to the current level.
Yep, those Polyarc gamemakers have woven together a VR experience that’s truly unique. A living, breathing fairytale journey that appeals to young and old alike, but comes without any significant content to wring a motherly mouse tail over.
In fact, the only real warning to voice here is one that Sony, the maker of the VR headset itself, has put out. The game company has stated that 12-years-old should be the youngest age group to slip into their VR headset.
Whether that’s simply due to the ergonomics of the device itself, or because of youthful eyesight and balance issues, it’s something to pay attention to. But even for the 12 year olds, experts suggests that virtual play be kept to hour-or-less sessions. Fortunately, a fun puzzle game like Moss works well with those limitations, too.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.