Nowadays there are many types of platformers. You have the classic platformers like Mario and Shantae: Half-Genie Hero. You have the artsy platformers like LIMBO and INSIDE. There are all kinds of puzzle platformers releasing on almost a weekly basis. Then you have the pure platformers that serve as no frills platforming experiences; that's The Sun and Moon and it's a game that has truly embraced exactly what it means to be a platformer.
The Sun and Moon is a game about one singular thing: collecting squares to unlock the exit of the level. There is no story. There is no contrived trick to motivate you to play more. The squares you collect seem to be little moons and perhaps you are a sun, but ultimately it doesn't matter as it's not an idea the game ever acknowledges. You play The Sun and Moon because you enjoy platformers and you want to see what's in the next level. That's all there is to it.
The art style is minimalist. There are multiple worlds and each has its own color palette that changes the look of things but nothing else. There are no mechanics behind the colors like in Thomas Was Alone where the colors symbolized certain personalities and abilities. Here, the color changes for the sake of the color changing. There's nothing inherently wrong with that — it certainly would be very dull to play through the same light green world for every level in the game — but the lack of something more coming as a result of the color change is simply a missed opportunity to add depth and gameplay variety to the game. As it is, the only effect on the gameplay from the color change is that sometimes it can be very hard to see certain gameplay elements like the little blocks you need to collect.
I said The Sun and Moon was only about one thing and that's true, but it does do that one thing very well. This game has rendered platforming to its core elements and it's fun. The physics are spot on and the Sun's movement is almost always what you expect. Your Sun is a bit small, which can make it tough to land on tiny platforms, but even then that's user error and not the game's fault. That spot-on physics and control are matched with an inversion of gravity mechanic when players pass through the walls of a level, but as it's not something with which we're familiar, it does require mental gymnastics to understand why some things happen at first. You'll have your share of sending your Sun flying way off the level because you held a bit too long, but it doesn't take long to become comfortable with the inversion of gravity and the end result is a happy one.
Each level is designed with the game's mechanics in mind. You'll always need to find the right path to the exit while collecting all the moons. In the beginning the path is obvious and you'll have no trouble getting to the end. By the 50th level things will begin to get tough. You'll make mistakes regularly as the precision required to get to the end is strict. By the 80th level, the map design begins to be a problem. You'll need to be perfect to even finish the level at all and you can forget about the speed running medals that are available if you aren't a master of the genre. Therein lies the game's problem.
The Sun and Moon is extremely difficult. In fact, it's easily one of the hardest platformers I've ever played. With about 150 levels in total and a branching path through them, you can sometimes skip levels you've had an issue with but even then it won't be long until you hit another brick wall. You'll regularly spend at least 20 minutes on a level. The first two are reserved for determining the proper path to the end and the other 18 will be spent on death after death as you make a futile attempt to pull off a perfect run. Difficult games are something that I love — challenge in a platformer is especially welcome. I relish the feeling of completing something difficult, but The Sun and Moon gave me no joy for the challenge and that's because the difficulty curve was too steep.
In a game as hard as this, it's important that a game has a stable difficulty curve and intuitive design that teaches you how to play. I'm not talking about blatant tutorials — I'm talking about smart levels that are designed to show you how to play the game. Each level should build upon the lessons you've already learned. If level ten requires you to use three mechanics to beat it, then the game should have already showed you each of those mechanics sequentially. The Sun and Moon does this for some elements of the game but it completely misses them on others. This means you'll go into each level completely unprepared for the challenges you're about to face and it's going to feel absolutely unfair. If this was a deliberate design choice by the developers, it was a bad one.
The game does introduce various new mechanics throughout the game such as moving comets, blinking platforms and platformers that phase in and out depending on what you've done with gravity. The first stage showing these is always simple and very fun. They show what the game could have been as you use all the basic mechanics in new and interesting ways. The sad thing is that the following level ratchets the difficulty up to 11 and it's a freefall after that. The end result is a game that's far too difficult for most players to finish. That's really too bad because the early levels of the game are among the best of any platformer I've played. The game's mechanics have a natural flow to them that makes mastery feel really special.
The achievements will require you to finish every level, but at the very least they are a bit more forgiving with regards to speed runs. You'll need to speed run only 100 of the levels to absolute perfection. It's still a monumental task that few will accomplish. There are no collectibles. There are no side activities. The only achievements in the game relate to finishing it and finishing it quickly, which I guess is very fitting for a game where that's all you ever do. Anyone who completes this game will be able to call themselves a master of the platforming genre.
SummaryThe Sun and Moon has great mechanics and very creative level design, but the game is hamstrung by a brutal difficulty curve. When the game is so difficult you need to stop playing, it better have something else to back it up like a story; The Sun and Moon doesn't have that. If you consider yourself a master of the platformer genre, you'll get some good mileage out of this game and it might even be among your favorites. If you're only good, average or great at platformers, you'll find joy is followed by frustration and, eventually, inevitable defeat. There's something here that's really special and fun when things are going well, so it's frustrating knowing the developer's focus was spent on a punishing difficulty that few could appreciate.
- Creative mechanic where passing through the walls inverts gravity
- Plenty of levels to sink your teeth into
- Far too difficult for even good players
- Artistic design is colorful to the point of distraction
- No replayability beyond completing the game other than speed running
- Fails to adequately prepare the player by teaching game mechanics
EthicsThe reviewer spent approximately 5 hours platforming and collecting squares that might be moons, earning 3 of the game's 12 achievements. An Xbox One download code for this game was provided through the ID@Xbox program for this review.
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