A Monster's Expedition is simply the most wonderful thing
We're taking Rezzed online over the next few days, presenting sessions and bringing you highlights of what's new and interesting in the world of independent games. You can find more details on exactly what's going on over here, and we'll be bringing you more write-ups over the coming days.
You push over one tree, then maybe you push over another. If you ever do a bit of writing, you might know this feeling. Writing looms very large when you haven't done it. I find that the direct approach rarely works. Instead, I sidle up, almost dreamily. Oh, I'll just start a new document - not doing anything, just a document. I'll write a preliminary note or two. Maybe just a pass at an opening sentence...
A Monster's Expedition is the kind of puzzle game that makes me nervous in principle. It's made by clever people. It's about rolling logs around - a bit like Stephen's Sausage Roll - and that suggests a daunting kind of spatial challenge. So I sidle up. I load it. Oh, the music's lovely and gentle. Oh, green and gold - sun in gently rippling grass. Oh, I can work back mistakes one at a time. I'll just see how movement feels. Maybe I'll try this first island...
You're a monster, right, exploring a lovely bunch of blockish islands. Each island is part of an archipelago, which is a word I never pass up the chance to use. They're separated by narrow stretched of water - just narrow enough? To be bridged by one of these trees scattered around the place?
You push over trees and then you can roll them. They'll roll until they hit something or fall off the island into the water. If they happen to create a bridge when they fall, brilliant stuff - you're off to the next island. If they don't, you can just walk it back one error at a time.
Early on, islands start to sprout little formations of rock that you can use to your advantage: push a tree into a rock and it will stop, so maybe you can move around it and push it another way. You're always learning here - it's one of those games - but because each island is small and the objective is always clear it's never too intimidating.
In fact, it's pretty much glorious. I love A Monster's Expedition. I have fallen for it rather hard. I love the little items you find scattered around the islands, and the lovely bits of text that accompany them. I love the blue of the sea and the sense of sand and grass with a friendly wind at play. More than anything I love the structure - this is an open-world puzzle game, which is a fantastic idea even when it's just words. As an actual thing, though, it's properly thrilling: many islands have multiple exits, so you can noodle off in one direction and then get stuck and noodle back in another direction. It feels like an idea evolving, like you're always moving not forwards but outwards, learning and opening up new possibilities, seeing new things, trying new things.
Twenty minutes in, something happened that changed the way I thought about the logs I was moving around - about their potential. The game suddenly seemed to yawn off into the distance around me, and the fog I was pushing back on the map screen suddenly seemed filled with hundreds of possibilities. I'm not going to spoil that for you, though.
If you ever do a bit of writing, maybe you agree that the greatest pleasure is writing to people to tell them about something magical. This game is magical.