There’s something about experiments gone wrong that sends an immediate chill up my spine. The thought of grotesque, zombified humans racing towards you is terrifying. Imagining the pain of the victims makes your heart heavy. Most of all, pondering the purpose of such brutal experiments makes your stomach churn in discomfort.
MO: Astray definitely leaves you with all those unsettling feelings and more with its eerie settings and story. This pixelated side-scrolling platform adventure starts off deceptively innocent, with you playing as MO, a little blue-green ball of slime. You learn to move and jump before being released into the first dungeon. Here, things begin to shift into darker territory. The laboratory is dark and covered in slime and traps, and you come to find that it is overrun with failed experimental subjects.
Once you come in contact with the various enemies, you learn that you can read their thoughts by jumping onto their heads. From there, it’s up to you to piece together the story of what happened in the laboratory.
And MO: Astray has truly phenomenal storytelling, some of which is relayed to you by a disembodied voice in your ear telling you where to go while dropping clues about the events that caused all of the devastation. The game incorporates flashbacks seamlessly by allowing you to read the thoughts of victims that still clearly remember their final moments, giving you bits and pieces of what happened through the eyes of the scientists and test subjects that lived through it.
These thoughts are often choppy and barely connected, which adds to the already eerie, mysterious tone of the game. This really forces you to figure out the story as you play by giving you pieces to fit together, and it leaves many things open for interpretation. It’s the kind of story that is great to discuss and theorize about.
Gameplay is puzzle-based and can be set from easy to pro difficulties, depending on how comfortable you are with action platformers and how much focus you want to put on the story. There’s a great variety in the puzzles, from using enemies to get you to where you need to go to using double-jumps to reach new heights. This requires using MO’s abilities, whether it be jumping, sticking to walls, or creating a holographic slime double. Sometimes, a puzzle requires you to find a lever in one area that will open a door in another, so be ready to backtrack often to move along. There’s never a dull moment with all the brain teasers you have to solve.
The pixelated graphics add a layer of creepiness to the game and work well to show off the scenery of the laboratory with its slimy walls and overgrown plants. They make the enemies look terrifying. Music blends with mechanical sound to make an easy to listen to and thrilling soundtrack. Everything in the game blends so well to make a truly interesting story come to life.
MO: Astray, with its fantastic storytelling and great design, creates an interesting, engaging, and thrilling game that will leave you theorizing about its meaning. We’ve seen a ton of great 2D action platformers and Metroidvania-style adventures as of late, but there’s something about the way this one encourages post-mortem storytelling in such an otherwise charming package somehow makes it all the more appealing. With Halloween coming up, it’s the perfect game to give you a microdose of psychological scares and chilling vibes.