The Path of Motus is a difficult game to review. It’s a competently made, albeit unremarkable, platformer/puzzler that becomes far more interesting after you’ve reached the end and listened to the developers commentary. As a means to tell a personal story, it’s a good example of how video games can be used for more than providing simple mechanical pleasure.
You play as the titular Motus, a 6-year old goblin boy looking to leave his secluded village in a forest. Very few people from his village have ever left - both his grandfather and father have tried and failed - and the forest is full of bullies looking to stop him. It’s a simple setup for what is effectively an hour-long analogy for overcoming challenges and pushing forward, regardless of what others say.
Letters are scattered throughout the levels and you'll want to find most of them to get a coherent narrative.
Each of the three acts are thematically different, representing a different stage in Motus’ life as you move from childhood to adulthood. Along the way, you’ll uncover letters left behind by his father, detailing his failed attempt to leave, and encounter some friendlier characters that aid you through a combat sections or simply shed light on the behaviour of the bullies. The writing lacks subtlety but it does the job of conveying the internal conflict many characters feel.
Right before the end credits, you can puzzle your way into a final area that includes 20 minute video of developer commentary. He provides a heartfelt summary of his own journey into the game industry, with plenty of supporting words for aspiring developers. He discusses the development of The Path of Motus and its core themes – something that encouraged a replay – but I can’t help but feel this would have been better structured as shorter bursts of commentary throughout the game. One of his key points is how storytelling is often at odds with the gameplay mechanics – like an emotional narrative in an FPS – but, sure enough, I spent the bulk of the video sequence bouncing Motus around the screen to keep occupied while listening. Clearly we don't have a perfect solution yet.
The developer commentary is both fascinating and inspirational but could have been better integrated. Expecting players to sit still for 20 minutes is unwise.
Gameplay consists of basic platforming, verbal “combat” with bullies, and line-based puzzles. The platforming is often challenging, requiring careful positioning and a quick succession of jumps. Platforming also goes hand in hand with the combat, which revolves around countering verbal projectiles of the same colour (I strongly recommend you use a controller on PC as the coloured face buttons make this more intuitive). During one section, you’ll alternate between two characters that can “guard” against incoming projectiles, allowing the other to progress.
Ideally, you’ll be wanting to take the “high road” – often quite literally – traversing each combat section with no bullies destroyed, by your own words or friendly fire. Annoyingly, a dash-jump move is only revealed halfway through the game, something essential to avoiding bullies in the opening act. Tying in to the themes of the game, repeated failures will alter the music and a ghostly voice will hound you to give up.
The idea of verbal jousting by countering coloured projectiles works quite well. It would have been nice to see more sections with two characters as it adds a puzzle element to each encounter.
The line- and number-based puzzles are less frequent and partially optional, however, you’ll have to solve at least a few to progress. You’re presented with a grid of symbols with associated numbers, indicating the number of lines that need to be connected to each one. Once you’ve figured out the basic shape, you’ll need to draw and erase the connecting lines until you’ve found the right configuration. It’s simple, yet surprisingly fun, and replaying the game after the ending offers up tougher variants.
The line- and number-based puzzles are infrequent but enjoyable.
As far a presentation goes, the 2D artwork is appealing (reminding me of Tomba! back on the PSOne) and there's a fantastic soundtrack used to emphasise story moments. Animations can look a bit stiff but as an indie game, that's just nitpicking.
If you push forward to the end with zero regard for tackling optional puzzles and avoiding combat, you’ll see the credits roll in under an hour. Even with the optional content, you’ll add maybe 20-30 minutes on that. I enjoyed one fast replay, wrapping up collectibles and getting all the “high road” tokens, and at R105 on Steam, it could be worth it if you’re interested in games with a personal message. On consoles, however, the price is more than double – no doubt Sony and Microsoft want their pound of flesh – and this makes it harder to recommend for such a short experience.
Enjoys games with awesome stories and characters, along with new and interesting hardware. Dislikes day-one patches and driver updates.
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PC, PS4, Xbox One
17 July 2018
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