The Sun and Moon (PlayStation 4) Review

By Nikola Suprak 31.05.2016

Review for The Sun and Moon on PlayStation 4

Weird things tend to come out of game jams. With such limited time to develop something presentable, it's hard to put together something that could one day actually see a retail release. The Sun and Moon, created by Daniel Linssen, is somewhat remarkable considering its prototype was put together in little more than a single day. This was eventually built up into a more complete experience for PC release a while back, and the final product recently made its way to PS4 and Vita. Unfortunately, perhaps the game needed a bit more refinement because the final product here falls just short of something really interesting.

The Sun and Moon is about as no frills as a platforming game can get. The music is basic, the visuals are one step above Pong and the world map is just this little grid. The focus is meant to be on the platforming itself. The playable character takes the form of this little ball and the goal is to manoeuvre it around the level, picking up however many small dots there are along the way, and eventually heading to the end of level portal. There are dangers to watch out, though - bottomless pits and spikes that all kill in one single hit. The levels themselves are relatively short, with even the longest not taking much more than a minute or so. Simplicity is the goal here, and it certainly makes the most of its very limited mechanics.

Screenshot for The Sun and Moon on PlayStation 4

The twist here is that the little ball can phase through walls, and things like motion and momentum can be manipulated while doing so. One of the little dots may be on a particularly high wall, but by phasing into the wall, the little ball hero will be immediately pushed upwards, getting to heights it couldn't get to otherwise. There are a lot of clever ways these powers come into effect. Walls can be phased through to get to the other side, tall barriers can be immediately climbed up, and multiple blocks can be phased through, gaining momentum and speed along the way. Unfortunately, while there are some clever mechanics, they alone are not enough to carry the game through all 160 levels. Phasing through objects is an interesting idea, but it really is only a single trick that becomes over used before too long. There are some really interesting levels included, sure, but too many of them feel similar or utilise ideas that are nearly identical.

Levels tend to be grouped in pairings of either ten or twenty, and levels within the same area tend to share a similar new mechanic or theme. Some introduce moving obstacles while others introduce environmental elements that phase in and out at the same time as the dots' phases. By throwing in a steady stream of ideas like this, it does manage to keep the gameplay fresh in smaller spurts. None of these are particularly impressive on their own, but there are just enough levels that use their little tricks well that it remains relatively fun to play. Level design tends to fluctuate between boring and really clever, although too many levels fall into the first category for this to attain the status of a truly remarkable indie platformer.

Screenshot for The Sun and Moon on PlayStation 4

There are a handful of other issues that also wind up weighing The Sun and Moon down. The aesthetic here is particularly bad, and from a visual standpoint almost everything is done wrong. The graphics are incredibly bland and simplistic, with all of the levels comprised of some black shapes stacked upon each other in various ways. In principle, it might not sound like a particularly problematic issue, but it also makes everything feel utterly devoid of personality or character. An avatar like Mario or Meat Boy allows the player to form some sort of connection with the character in question. When the controllable character is a small circle and the backdrops are nothing but geometric shapes, forming a similar connection is impossible. Everything just feels very sterile and lifeless, and the aesthetic here doesn't help to breathe life into the title.

It isn't just that the presentation looks bland, but the way things are done actually gets in way of the gameplay. The backgrounds are aggressively terrible, comprised of bright camo patterns that are repeated endlessly, which distracts from the actual action. They look like a hunter's wardrobe had a baby with a magic eye painting, and a blank screen would have been better than what has been used. Even worse, the little dots that need to be collected to open up the end of level portal are made so small that they are hard to see. When they appear within the shapes themselves, they are usually easy to spot, but they can easily get lost in the very busy background and there are likely to be multiple instances where the only way to start a level is to spend some time trying to figure out exactly these little dots are that need to be grabbed. This is really only true in a couple of the early areas, as the backgrounds do become less distracting later on, but it shouldn't have been an issue at all as this sort of annoyance should have been noticed almost immediately.

Screenshot for The Sun and Moon on PlayStation 4

Furthermore, the small size of the player and the dots actually make collecting them harder to do than it should be. It is very easy to miss a dot because the little thing that is controlled gets lost on the big screen or obscured by the background, throwing off the positioning of a jump by a fraction of a millimetre. This is helped in some stages by creating a field around the dots, where passing through it draws them in so that exact precision is no longer required. Still, the extremely basic visuals and poor backgrounds really make it feel like this was a game that got slapped together in a day and nobody bothered to come back to improve upon it. The Sun and Moon is perhaps the best example of how much a good, visually pleasing aesthetic can actually improve the gameplay, because it is so poor here that it actually makes the gameplay worse.

Something that does make The Sun and Moon stand out, however, is its difficulty. There are some truly devious levels here, and death will happen and happen a lot. The levels themselves aren't long, but frequent playthroughs of each one become almost a necessity at a certain point. Some of the levels use this challenge to great effect, requiring hopping in-between multiple environmental objects at just the right angle to avoid spikes before phasing back into another one and doing it all over again. Others, though, feel hard simply for the sake of being hard. There is definitely a fun challenge to be had here at times, but certain levels just feel tedious. The difficulty is still there, but the developer forgot to incorporate the whole "fun" aspect. It is certainly rewarding whenever a particularly devious challenge is completed, but some players will likely abandon the task along the way because it simply isn't fun. Enjoyable titles with challenge always make gamers want to come back for one more try, one last run. Without the perfect mixture of gameplay and level design, a challenge can begin to feel tedious, though, and, unfortunately, that is exactly what happens here further into the experience.

Screenshot for The Sun and Moon on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

The Sun and Moon is a perfect example of a very competently made game that lacks heart. There are some good ideas here and the platforming can be enjoyable in short spurts, but it is missing something to tie it all together. An occasional clever twist, or inspired level, simply isn't enough to carry the game through to the end, and everything starts to blend together after a while. The difference between The Sun and Moon and truly great puzzle platformers is the same as a meal cooked by a professional chef and one warmed up in the microwave. A little more time spent building up this experience could have made it truly remarkable, but instead it is just yet another puzzle platformer in a genre saturated by them.

Developer

Daniel Linssen

Publisher

Digerati Distribution

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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