A magical experience that is comfortable enough for VR newcomers to enjoy, while intricate and immersive enough to thrill VR veterans.
Version tested: PlayStation 4 Pro.
Set in an enchanting, storybook world, Moss is an interactive fairytale of grand adventure, bravery and friendship. Now, that might sound like the blurb from every fantasy game you've ever played, but Moss is different. This is a game that oozes charm from its every pore, and from the very first moment that you're introduced to protagonist Quill, a tiny mouse with a big personality, you can tell that you're about to play something very, very special indeed.
Unlike most VR games that are played from the third-person perspective, in Moss you're much more than just a passive bystander or an intelligent camera on a swivel. Casting you as 'The Reader' a ghostly figure that looks not unlike No-Face from Spirited Away, Moss uses VR to place you inside the game in a truly unique way. You and Quill are a team, and as the game progresses your interactions with each other in VR will help you form a type of bond that's just not possible in conventional video games.
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As the Reader, you not only control Quill's movements as she runs, jumps and fights her way around the world, but you're also able to use motion controls to interact with certain parts of the scenery. By tracking the light bar on your DualShock controller, Moss allows you to reach into the levels and pull, push and prod at things. Represented in game by a glowing ball of energy, the 'power of the Reader' reacts with moveable objects and causes them to glow. These moveable objects often form the basis for basic platforming puzzles, most of which revolve around repositioning blocks or statues in order to create a route for Quill to navigate through each scene.
The richness of the world that Polyarc has created makes Moss one of the most beautiful, believable VR games I've ever played. Take the opening chapter; as you get to grips with the controls you take a leisurely stroll through Quill's woodland home, a Lilliputian village built on, in and around the trunks of trees. Exploring this tiny town and watching the residents pottering about feels something like seeing a model village brought to life via some Jim Henson magic.
Quill herself is exquisitely animated. From the little spins and flourishes as she clambers up ledges through to the way she communicates with you in a simplified form of sign language; it's all flawless stuff. This attention to detail combined with the magic of VR takes character interaction to another level. Get into difficulty with a puzzle for instance and Quill will wave at you, beckoning you to lean in towards her. Get close enough and she'll make a gesture that hints at what you need to do next. It's a lovely touch that feels organic rather than pre-programmed.
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Not all interactions are functional, though; many just help to reinforce the connection between you and Quill. One time I leant down to peer into a tunnel and my unexpected presence behind Quill caused her to physically jump. She turned around shocked and then wagged her finger at me as if to tell me off for startling her. It's these unexpected moments that give Moss so much of its magic - I could list so many more, but it's probably best for you to discover them yourself.
It's an extremely approachable game, though there are challenges to be found in Moss, with environmental hazards and enemies that come in the form of metallic, clockwork-like beetles known as the Forged. It's through interactions with these that you'll experience combat. This process can feel a bit fiddly at first, especially as you get comfortable with controlling Quill whilst also thinking about the position of your controller in 3D space. It won't take long to settle into it though, and soon you'll be zipping about dealing damage and healing Quill like it's second nature. Once you've mastered how to evade, combat does start feeling rather simplistic though and only later battles that feature large amounts of enemies will offer a significant challenge.
The Forged aren't just there to provide some action-packed breaks in the platforming though, they're also an integral part of many of the games puzzles. Using your power you can take control of the Forged and lead them around with your controller like you're pulling them along on a leash. Screechers, the standard Forged enemies, can be placed on pressure pads to open doors, whilst others, like the gun toting Scorcher or the explosive Ticker can be used to trigger switches from afar.
It's also worth pointing out that while none of the puzzles are terribly taxing, most are balanced well enough to give you a satisfying sense of achievement once you've solved them. Oh, and working out a particularly lengthy puzzle will often cause Quill to give you a thumbs up and a little squeak of approval; something that never fails to raise a smile.
The only major criticism I can give to Moss is that, at three and a half to four hours long, it's all over far too quickly. The budget price tag does something to temper this of course, as does the fact that this is a textbook case of quality over quantity. In the grand scheme of things it's also worth remembering that this short runtime is about average for a VR title, but still, Moss felt like it ended just as it was starting to really get going. With the promise of further games on the horizon though, I guess it probably did.
Polyarc really has created the perfect game for PSVR here. It's not just something that youngsters and adults alike can enjoy; it's also an experience you'll want to share with as many people as possible. This is VR that's capable of changing people's perception of the platform from one that's a novelty, to one that's a legitimate, exciting progression for gaming as a whole.
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The world of Moss feels like a real place, populated with characters that act like living, breathing creatures. The addition of VR elevates the experience to something else entirely. It allows you too lean into Quill's world, to inspect it, to explore it and to fiddle and interact with it. It disintegrates the invisible barriers that have existed between the player and their avatar since video games first came about, and it does so in a way that'll make your heart soar.