Platform: PC (£6.99)
Publisher: Daedelic Entertainment
All is not well in Midgard. Munin, Odin's loyal spy and informant, has been transformed into a mortal human by the nefarious Loki and set adrift in a dangerous 2D world. Flightless but not helpless, our heroine sets out to reclaim her feathers and return to her place on Odin's shoulder by...
...erm, rotating some tiles. For eight hours.
Anyone expecting a radical new adaptation or in-depth exploration of Norse mythology should lower their expectations immediately, because Munin is very much a puzzle game first and foremost that does the bare minimum to embrace the setting (beyond a handful of names, attractive art direction a handful of text screens written in a deeply ugly typeface). However, patient players who crave an exceptionally challenging platform puzzler with a penchant for deadly physics-based traps will be in their element.
The platformer side of the puzzle-platformer see-saw couldn't be simpler. Munin shuffles about the levels using WASD, can hop a painfully short distance, climb ladders and push certain objects around. Sluggish and clunky, she's certainly no Samus or Lara, but she does have a nifty trick up her sleeve that changes the world in a profoundly literal sense.
Each 2D stage is broken up into several square tiles, which can be rotated 90° with a simple mouse click. Everything rotates -- feathers, platforms and all -- meaning that you'll soon learn to 'assemble' each level on the fly. Like a jigsaw puzzle that can be assembled in several different ways, you'll learn to re-jigger (please excuse my fearsome technical jargon) combinations of floors, ladders and pits until they fit together, then swapping them around to reach previously unobtainable feathers. It's an immediately intuitive concept that works well, and that gradually reveals hidden depths. Not just figuratively, since bottomless pits abound.
Gojira clearly knew that tile rotation alone wasn't going to be enough to sustain a puzzler with nearly eighty levels, meaning that each thematic zone introduces a new environmental hazard or mechanic powered by a surprisingly robust physics engine. Boulders, for example, will roll downhill (and can be pushed uphill), unbalancing platforms or crushing unwary players. Fluids take this further, allowing you to carefully fill reservoirs with water to swim to new areas, for example. It's a great idea that continually surprises and results in incredibly satisfying 'Eureka Moments,' especially when you reach the final stages that combine mechanics from multiple worlds together in exceptionally tricky ways.
I'd genuinely love to end the review on a high, right here, but sadly Munin's has an Achilles' Heel a mile wide. Just to irrevocably mix our mythologies. There's a fine line between "exceptionally tricky" and "needlessly, punishingly frustrating"... and Gojira find themselves on the mouse cord-chewing side of it.
When it comes down to basics, Munin is a game about trial & error, about experimenting with each stage's unique layout of tiles and hazards to get a feel for what works and how best to progress. Yet the game constantly punishes players for doing just that. Practically every hazard, from falling rocks to oozing lava, kills Munin instantly and resets the level, meaning that you can lose upwards of 5 minutes of progress each time.
I've levelled this criticism against other games before using a facile yet relevant thought experiment: imagine if Portal made all fall damage and every turret bullet immediately lethal? It's not entirely accurate in this case, since Munin can fall a considerable distance, but think about the sheer amount of frustration this would cause when experimentation is a core gameplay tenet.
Combined with the aforementioned sluggish movement speed, the time between attempts steadily increases even as the number of attempts-per-stage skyrocket, leading to masses of iteration time and aggravating periods spent replaying a solution you know how to complete -- in part -- before then getting to the bit you're stuck on. Just the slightest hint of mercy, a limited hint button unlocked by optional collectibles or even a level skip, anything, would have been welcome, not least because you'll sometimes fail a level you know how to complete because Munin failed to climb a ladder properly.
It's not enough to break Munin, though. The challenge curve and iteration time may be needlessly and viciously punitive, but the satisfaction of finally beating the later stages is nigh-orgasmic. Plus, one gamer's "hard" is another gamer's "rewarding." Be sure to try out the demo to find out where you stand.
Sadly, the fact that Munin costs £6.99 on PC... yet will set you back $2 on iOS and Android later this month... is enough to break Gojira's effort. The Steam, iOS and Google Play marketplaces are very different, but releasing the quadruply-expensive PC version before the mobile versions reeks of opportunism and a desire to separate gamers from more money than they necessarily need to spend.
- Plenty of challenging puzzles
- Eyecatching hand-drawn art style
- Some cerebral mechanics based around physics and fluid
- Frequently frustrating and punitive, instant death punishes experimentation
- Aggravatingly clunky movement
- Bare-bones storyline and use of Norse mythology
- It will cost $2 on iOS and Android
The Short Version: Munin may be savagely difficult, but punishment gluttons will be raven about this carefully-constructed puzzle platformer for some time. Sadly, it's also savagely difficult to recommend spending £6.99 on a game that will cost less than £2 on mobile devices very soon.