One of the best VR games ever finally gets a sequel, as Quill the mouse returns in a new adventure that’s twice the size of the original.
Almost unbelievably, virtual reality has been around since the 1970s. Naturally, in those days it was clumsy, catastrophically expensive, and only really suited for high end industrial applications. In the intervening 50 years prices have come way down and the resolution of head mounted displays has improved almost out of all recognition, but it’s still a medium that stubbornly refuses to become mainstream, despite the ongoing efforts of both Meta and Sony.
And that’s a pity because the experience of using VR for the first time is revelatory. Like the transition from SNES and Mega Drive to the original PlayStation, it feels like something completely different, quite unlike the incremental improvements of normal console generations. When you give it a try, the first thing you notice is its ability to make you feel as though you’re somewhere else entirely.
That’s something the original Moss did to impressive effect. Although you spend your time in the game controlling a tiny mouse, you’re very much a part of her world. She looks up at you, literally, gets startled if you leant in too close, or reaches up for a miniature high five when she’d completed a tough battle. Combined with the wonderful subtlety and expressiveness of its animation, playing the original game felt uniquely personal.
At the end of the first game your mouse heroine, Quill killed a giant snake and when you regain control of her in the sequel, you start next to its inert corpse, exactly where you left off. Although you do control Quill via the joypad, technically you’re playing as an unnamed, mask wearing creature reminiscent of No-Face from Spirited Away. As the game starts you briefly catch a glimpse of your own reflection, as you prepare to help your tiny charge once again.
As well as moving Quill around the environment you also help in other ways, using your comparatively immense size to open heavy stone doors, shift pieces of scenery, or hold down enemies so Quill can give them a good drubbing with her little sword. You’ll also assist in solving puzzles using your more expansive view of their mechanics.
Although inventive and not short of fresh ideas, the puzzles themselves are never particularly cryptic, proving just tough enough to feel satisfying when you crack them. Pushing and pulling platforms, dragging enemies onto pressure plates, and swiping dead vines to make them grow flowers and become climbable – every one of its interactions feels solid and pleasingly tangible.
Divided into six chapters, each prefaced by a scene in a huge cathedral where you turn the pages of the book of Moss, they all have their own wonderfully detailed biome. Moving from the pocket-sized grandeur of a partially ruined mouse castle to a lush, full-sized forest, a combination of beautiful art design and a perfectly engineered soundscape add to the sense of immersion. Listening to the crickets chirp you look up through the treetops to catch the sight of twin moons peeping between the branches.
The book theme is omnipresent, and you’re addressed by the narrator as “The Reader”, your role built into the continuum of the world and its story. About halfway through you cede control of Quill and meet a new mouse, Sahima, who despises and fears readers. She wants absolutely nothing to do with you, but eventually she, too, needs your help.
As well as a new character, both mice now have a dodge move to go with their attacks. For such a small addition it makes a considerable difference to the rhythm of combat, with fights feeling far more skill based and rewarding. Sahima also comes with a ranged weapon; a bladed frisbee, which she soon gives Quill to use as she continues her adventure.
There’s a decent variety of enemies, some of whom also use ranged weapons against you, as well as a couple of bosses. Like the puzzles, none of them is especially taxing, fitting nicely with the tone of the game, which is at least as much about the magical atmosphere and sense of bonding with your pint-sized companion as it is about the mechanics of getting to the end.
The game clocks in at around eight hours if you take time to search each area for the game’s collectible scrolls and Zelda-style smashable urns, containing sparkly relic dust. That makes it almost exactly twice the size of the original, and given what a pleasure it is to play, there’s a powerful desire to draw it out for as long as possible – to spend as much time as you can in Quill’s stunningly atmospheric miniature world.
Moss: Book 2 is magical from start to finish, benefitting from an extraordinarily high level of polish, lush art and sound design, and a lovely orchestral soundtrack. And there’s not a single moment where motion sensing gets in the way of the entertainment. A genuinely impressive piece of work, especially on Sony’s ageing VR hardware.
Moss: Book 2 review summary
In Short: A delightful and hugely entertaining journey of puzzles, battles, and exploration that makes you feel a part of both its story and the living, breathing, miniaturised world of Moss.
Pros: Beautiful environments, clever puzzles, and satisfying combat, with a magnificent sense of being somewhere fantastical.
Cons: You’ll wish there was more of it, and it’s not radically different from the original game.
Formats: PlayStation VR
Release Date: 31st March 2022
Age Rating: 7
By Nick Gillett
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