STAFF REVIEW of Sun and Moon, The (Xbox One)

Saturday, February 11, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Sun and Moon, The Box art What I love about the puzzle genre is that there’s no set template that developers need to inherently follow. The genre is very broad, and with The Sun and Moon, you get a game that is part puzzler and bigger part platformer. While it may be more akin to a platformer, as that’s the heart of its gameplay, figuring out how to reach your goal on each stage is a puzzle in itself, which is why I would categorize it into both genres.

The premise of The Sun and Moon is as simple as it gets; you’re a small little sphere-thing with eyes (yes, I just described it like that), and you need to collect orbs scattered around each stage before you can exit through a portal. It sounds simplistic, and it is, but the heart of the game comes with punishingly difficult gameplay that requires precision, patience, and expertise.

There is no story, there’s no system to tag you along from one stage to the next, as you’re simply clearing stage by stage until you hit an inevitable brick wall of difficulty. The Sun and Moon title itself doesn’t seem to mean anything, but that’s ok, as it excels at being a platformer, not trying to be anything more or less. Just be ready to fail, almost constantly, as you need to learn to react quickly and not rely so much on thinking.

The main catch to The Sun and Moon that makes it so unique is its ‘dive’ mechanic, for lack of a better term. You’re able to dive into the ground, ceiling, or walls, based on your direction and speed. The faster you’re initially going, the further you’ll ‘dive’ into the walls, which will then slingshot you out of the walls at a faster velocity. It’s a very tricky mechanic to master, and even after hours of playing, I still have troubles always doing exactly what I want to do, quickly and precisely anyways.

Since the overall goal is simple, collecting the dots and making your way to the wormhole exit, you can solely focus on the gameplay as the artistic style is very minimalist. That being said, the camouflage backgrounds can be a little distracting, making it difficult to distinguish where you are when things are happening quickly.

Every level is different, but generally you’re leaping from one floating platform to the next, usually requiring you to gain momentum by digging and launching in a specific direction. You’re going to die, a lot, so prepare yourself as you fling into many spikes and into the abyss, requiring a restart. The game becomes punishingly more difficult the further into it you go, dramatically more so if you’re trying to finish the levels under the par times. The game is fair though, and if you die, it’s because of your skill, or lack there-of, or an mistimed jump.

When you do get into the groove and start flinging yourself upwards and outwards with speed and precision, The Sun and Moon feels amazing. The physics take a lot of time to get the hang of, but in those levels where things just click perfectly, you’ll want to continue playing, thinking you’ve mastered the game. That is, until you hit the next roadblock of difficult stages.

Sure, you’ll miss your jumps and fall into nothingness many times, but more often than not you’ll hit the precisely laid out spikes that kill you instantly. These force you to move or avoid certain areas with a purpose. This is why I said it feels almost like a puzzler, as you need to figure out the determined path to your goal, which generally comes with much trial and error. If you stick with it before giving up there will also be more advanced challenges that await you, like moving platforms, platforms that disappear and reappear, and even a few special levels where a ‘boss’ enemy will chase you.

There are well over 100+ levels, and what’s fun is that these levels usually last 10-15 seconds, if done properly of course. If you do the math, then you’ll naturally assume that you’ll complete the game in a matter of hours, but I promise you it’s nowhere that easy, and being stuck repeating levels for well over 30 minutes is the norm.

I also enjoyed the fact that levels don't unlock in linear fashion either. So, once you complete a level a handful of different ones (two or three) open up to play, all of which branch in different directions. So if you get stuck and frustrated on a specific level, you’re able to back out and try another stage instead. There’s a whole batch of levels I had to bypass, so I moved onto another set and was making progress elsewhere. The levels are numbered, and higher numbers are generally harder, but it helps offset the frustration of being stuck on a single level for too long.

Each level has a par time, but thankfully it’s completely optional (as well as related to achievements). You’re going to need all the skill and luck to simply complete the levels, not even factoring the unreal par times. Seriously, of all the levels I’ve completed to this point, I’ve only made the par times a handful of times. These par goals are for the extreme speed runners and those that want to devote themselves to The Sun and Moon, as your average player won’t even have a chance of obtaining even a fraction of them, let alone beating every stage.

There’s a handful of 8-bit themed music that accompanies the gameplay, and while I did enjoy it for the first while, there’s only a few tracks, so when you’re playing for any long period of time, fatigue will set in when you hear the same chiptune for the tenth time. The music itself is great, it's just that there is not enough variety, though I’m sure being constantly stuck and frustrated with levels played a factor into this thought process for me.

It feels as though the lack of any sort of leaderboard system is a really big miss. There’s no way to see how you stack up against others or your friends. I would have loved to be able to download people’s ghosts and see how they completed the various levels, given how near impossible the bulk of them appear to be later on. Since the par times feel like you need some sort of cheat to even come close to obtaining them, I really wish there was some sort of way to see how others solved the levels so I didn’t have to look it up on YouTube.

While new elements are gradually added, there’s not enough levels that ‘teach’ you how to deal with these new mechanics, so more often than not you constantly become stuck and not sure how to progress. I’ll admit it, I tapped out more than a few times. I’ve completed every level I can too, but there’s only so long I can handle being stuck on a stage. It’s a shame, as the difficulty spike is nearly vertical, so it may be a turn off for some, as it’s simply too difficult for most. That being said, and like I mentioned earlier, when things flow right and you’re in that groove, the gameplay is amazing.

A good platformer, and puzzlers, need to have a sense of accomplishment, so that when you finally beat that one stage you've been stuck on you feel awesome and want to continue playing. The Sun and Moon does this, but because the levels are inherently so short, you’re moving from being on stuck on one level to the next, especially in the later stages. The best part about this game is its flowing gameplay mechanics and awesome level design, but the extreme difficulty curve forces you to eventually learn how to react and not think, something that doesn’t always come naturally, or easily, unless you have a huge amount of time to dedicate to doing so. In the end those who love the challenge of very difficult games should take a look, but those without patience, or some skill, may just want to take a pass on this one.

Overall: 7.0 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.5 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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