Munin, the new Norse themed platform flipping puzzler from Portuguese developer Gojira, reminds me a bit of a restaurant one might visit at a theme park. Its graphical style is immediately striking, but this serves as little but window dressing, and the meat of the experience is a standard mix of puzzle and platform elements that have been combined here in a unique and yet familiar package. To extend this metaphor beyond its breaking point, the restaurant in question has seemingly been re-themed once before, as it’s clear that Munin‘s core mechanics would be better served on phones than the PC platform. It leads to some control frustrations, as a mouse will never be faster than a touchscreen when it comes to the vital environment manipulation which is key to solving Munin‘s many puzzles. Add that in with the strange $7 price disparity between mobile and PC, and you have a port that seems out of place even in 2014’s crowded Steam marketplace.
Munin (PC [Reviewed], Mac, iOS, Android)
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Release Date: June 10th (PC, Mac), July 7th (iOS, Android)
MSRP: $10 (PC, Mac), $3 (iOS, Android)
In Munin, you play as the titular raven from Norse mythology. Everyone’s favorite Thor villain Loki has transformed Munin into a little girl and scattered her feathers across the various realms. While controlling Munin, you must twist sections of each environment on an axis in order to move and jump around while reclaiming all the feathers on a given stage. Once that’s finished, your non-transformed raven partner Hugin flies you off to the next challenge. Why Hugin can’t just fly around the environments himself and collect the feathers considering he’s still a bird is a mystery beyond my understanding. Perhaps Loki cursed him to be blind? Anyway, once you get past the first world, Loki throws more obstacles in your path, including moving platforms, rolling boulders, and flowing water which must be forced into the correct reservoirs in order to proceed. This repeats across 77 levels, although the difficulty spike is so huge after the first few stages in each world that there is a good chance you wont get that far without some serious dedication.
There is nothing wrong with difficult games of course. Many games nowadays are advertising their immense difficulty as a prime selling point. Munin doesn’t seem to be one of those games, and its difficulty is not found solely in its gameplay. There is nothing more frustrating than when you have solved a puzzle but have trouble executing on said solution. The control scheme for Munin relies on synchronicity between rotating platforms via mouse clicks and navigating your character on screen with WASD. These concepts do not gel as well as one might hope, leaving to situations where levels have to be redone over and over again just because of character deaths caused by awkward controls. The precision is just not there, and one could even begin to wonder after twenty or thirty tries why a character that can die is necessary at all in some of the puzzles presented to the player.
This is a shame, as the real fun in Munin comes from logically working your way through each room, endlessly spinning platforms until you find the path to victory. The physics on everything in the levels are pretty loose as well, which sometimes leads to frustration, but also might lead to the feeling that you cheated the game, a thrill that is hard to come by in today’s mostly guided gameplay experiences. These moments also allow the player to step back from the puzzles momentarily and appreciate the game’s stunning visual style. Each level looks like a vivid painting as you move through it, and the rotating platforms never look out of place, always fitting together in just the right way. What little character art there is is also very well done, especially considering that it is certainly not the star of the show here. As much as I love my pixels in my indie games, it’s always worth some points in my book when a developer steps outside the box and tries something different with visuals, and they succeeded here.
In theory, if I were to install Munin on my Android phone, I imagine I might have a better time with it. The game’s puzzles seem custom made for the short play sessions and touch screen design of that platform. As it stands on PC, Munin is an underwhelming project held back by both its unique mechanics and its price disparity between versions. It is possible that the mobile version will be a more stripped down version of this experience, but there are already slim pickings here for all but the most logical of puzzle solvers. That, combined with the fact that there is nothing going on in this game that couldn’t be replicated on a phone, makes me think that this disparity is instead a case of accepted prices being higher on the Steam platform. However, I can only judge the game in front of me, which is an also-ran project that does pure platforming worse than Super Meat Boy and pure puzzling worse than The Bridge. Munin brings nothing new to the table on PC but its own frustrations, and why it has released on Steam ahead of its debut on phones in a month is as mysterious as Hugin’s problems with gathering feathers.