Polyarc Games’ Moss is a triumph in VR game design and execution. It’s a wondrously realized fairy tale starring a lovable protagonist, filled with clever puzzles, and endless charm in every corner. Most impressive, however, is the confidence and restraint with which it uses VR to subtly elevate the familiar 3D adventure genre without getting caught up in trying to sell the technology with gimmicks.
The only objectionable part of Moss is that it ends perhaps a bit too soon, but its layered world, which you can quite literally lean into thanks to PSVR, begs to be experienced more than once.
Dear Reader, Meet Quill
Moss opens in a dark cathedral. A narrator says that the book before you tells a story, and you’re a part of it. You move the controller forward, hold the trigger, and flip the book open like it’s actually in your hands.
A single narrator reads the tale like an animated parent reading a bedtime story.
Many years ago, the stuff of nightmares came to life in the kingdom. A winged creature swooped into the king’s chambers and killed him beneath a starless sky. A fiery snake and the underworld army known as the Arcane ravaged the castle in search of a powerful relic called the Glass. Outmatched, Sir Argus led his people to a distant clearing, hidden by trees. With the help of the Sprites, a neighboring group who sent a Glass-wielding champion of their own, Argus sealed the temple gate to keep the Arcane out. The Sprite champion perished near the gate, and a towering tree grew in his place to keep the Glass safe until a suitable hero came along.
Cue Quill, an adorable mouse and Argus’ niece who stumbles upon the Glass while out exploring the limits of the clearing. The moment she touches the object she looks up to see you staring down at her. The Glass gives its a holder a “reader,” someone from another world who appears only in the shadows as a large mask. However frightening that may sound, Quill is intrigued, not afraid of you, which sets up the makings of a whimsical bond. Together, you embark on a quest to push back the nightmare and reclaim the fallen castle.
While the premise is standard fairy tale fare, Moss’ approach to telling its story still manages to delight. In between chapters, you return to the cathedral to turn the pages of the deftly illustrated tome. A single narrator reads the whole tale, taking on different voices and inflections, and ramping up the tension in a way that is deeply reminiscent of a parent skillfully and animatedly reading a bedtime story.
Coming together as one
When you dive into the book, the story transitions to one about a burgeoning friendship between the reader and Quill, a silent bond that forms through interactions rather than words. Although a single player game, Moss’ intelligent mechanics turn it into somewhat of a co-operative adventure.
Smart mechanics turn this single-player game into an exciting co-operative experience.
You control Quill with the thumbstick, jumping across platforms and slashing her sword with button presses like any ordinary adventure game. The reader, however, can use the DualShock 4’s motion sensor to reach out and interact with the environment in order to help Quill progress. Early on this means moving blocks and opening large doors, simple tasks for which Quill cutely thanks you in American Sign Language. Through play these two disparate input methods gradually entwine to become one intuitive and rewarding control scheme.
Moss expertly demonstrates the importance of utilizing both Quill’s movements and those of the reader in its combat. You only really encounter three types of enemies over the course of the game — steel beetles, fire flinging crabs, and balloons that explode and spray acid over an area. None of them can hurt you, the reader, of course, but all of them present a potent threat to Quill.
Quill’s swordplay is competent enough to take out a single beetle, and she’s speedy enough to evade one exploding balloon or dodge a few fireballs, but threats don’t come at you her at a time for long – the reader and Quill must work in tandem to slay groups of foes. With motion controls you can reach out and take hold enemies — either setting them up for Quill to kill or turning them against one another. It’s a deeply satisfying system that opens the door for some fun experimentation.
While the creatures you encounter sometimes just have to be killed, often times you use them as props to solve the game’s increasingly elaborate puzzles. Move a pair of beetles onto pads to open gates, or use fireballs and exploding enemies to flip switches, all the while running and jumping with Quill. Almost every area in Moss has a puzzle to solve, and the closer you get to the castle, the more the moving parts come together.
From combat to puzzles, Moss plays like a dream. Interacting with the world directly while also controlling Quill heightens the experience every step of the way.
You can finish Moss with barely ever moving your head. Sure, slight turns are required, but this isn’t a VR game that makes you twist and turn on loop. When Quill travels to the back of the screen, inside buildings or behind structures, a silhouette shows you where she is. The ease of play feels like a nod to its carefully calculated use of the technology, and many users looking for a relaxing experience will appreciate that.
That said, Moss makes full use of its depth, and looking at the game from various angles shows off just how thoughtfully Polyarc designed this vibrant world. It can also change the way you go about tackling the game’s puzzles. From a sitting position, Quill can sometimes be very close to you and other times far away, depending on the task at hand.
Like all great stories, it urges you to go back and see it all anew again.
You can lean in to see the world from Quill’s perspective, peeking around and following her inside buildings. Or you can stand up and tower above everything from an aerial view. Collectible scrolls are hidden throughout the game to encourage this kind of thorough exploration.
Moss compelled us to go back and observe each scene from a new angle not just to find the secrets we missed the first time, but to soak in the lush woodlands, marvel at the puzzles from a fresh perspective, gawk at the ornate statues in the castle, and observe the other animals roaming the clearing.
Like all great stories, it urges you to go back and see it all anew again. And if you do this, Moss does come to life. Each time you reach out and pet Quill, she’ll smile and wiggle her ears. At first that seemed like just another charming touch, but by the time we removed the headset, it was clear that Polyarc actually made us care.Our Take
Moss bridges the gap between traditional games and virtual reality experiences. It’s an adventure game brimming with charm, crafty puzzles, and a fully realized fairy tale world that makes you feel as if you are really there. Moss is proof that virtual reality games can redefine well-known genres.
Is there a better alternative?
No, Moss is the first great adventure game to arrive on PSVR.
How long will it last?
Our first playthrough took us about four hours, but we immediately turned the pages back to the beginning to take a closer look at each chapter and scour for collectibles.
Should you buy it?
Unless you have something against cute mice wielding swords, yes Moss should be in every PSVR owner’s library.