Review: Moss: Book II
When you think about it some of the biggest videogame franchises have been built around a singular character, Mario, Sonic, Master Chief. Say these names and most players will instantly know them and reminisce about spending far too much time in these digital worlds. Yet virtual reality (VR) doesn’t have quite the same heritage when it comes to standout characters, mainly because you are the character. There is a small selection that bucks this trend, top of the list being Quill from Polyarc’s Moss series. And now the second instalment has arrived, Moss: Book II, taking the tiny mouse on another adventure that retains all the charm of the original.
Moss was an instant hit back in 2018 so the sequel doesn’t play with that formula too much, rather doing what all good sequels should; refine and expand. You still play as The Reader, a looming ghostly figure in the Moss universe who becomes a pivotal part of the story, controlling not only the heroine Quill but also far more than ever before. It’s this connection with the world of Moss that Polyarc has truly grown, because as the interactivity in VR games has increased Moss: Book II has followed suit.
But how do you increase interactivity in a videogame-like Moss: Book II when your only input method is a DualShock 4 controller? By bringing the environment to life, taking those gorgeous environments the series is known for and adding an even greater selection of elements to touch. Most of which are important to the gameplay and figuring out the vast variety of puzzles Moss: Book II has throughout the campaign.
Controlling that blue orb just like the first instalment, the new interactions range from growing vines walls for Quill to climb to pulling out vines to create new walkways. The method is simple yet it encourages you to begin leaning into the environments which need to be closely inspected for secrets. Moss: Book II has even more up its sleeve where new mechanics are concerned, as Quill now has a trio of weaponry to unlock. Beginning with the original green blade, Chakrams help you deal ranged damage whilst the previously revealed hammer is slow, heavy but sure does pack a punch.
With these selectable via a new inventory system on the touchpad, Moss: Book II’s combat is as playful and enjoyable as ever. Quill can unleash a wave of combo attacks with a few quick button presses whilst being light on her feet for evasive manoeuvres. Even when surrounded by several enemies Quill has plenty of skills up her sleeve, she is a very dextrous mouse after all. Each of the weapons has a unique charge ability, that can be used in battle or for those environmental puzzles. The blade activates a blue dash to cross chasms or hit a row of opponents whilst the Chakrams can be charged into one giant weapon, great for smashing distant objects. The hammer has the most useful ability, creating a giant ghostly version that you can bring crashing down on switches and groups of enemies.
The only real downside to the new weapon selection is being able to switch between them quickly. This is most notable mid-battle, as it becomes quite finicky hitting the touchpad and then selecting whichever weapon you want whilst ensuring Quill doesn’t get hurt. Being able to stick each weapon on the D-pad would’ve been so much simpler – albeit less involved.
Moss: Book II is equal parts action and puzzle-solving, every new area is one giant conundrum to explore and navigate with Polyarc squeezing a generous amount of variety into them. Much like the original, puzzles are environmental, generally tasking you with finding the right path without falling off the ledge and into a seemingly bottomless pit. Yet none of them is too taxing that you’d need a great deal of help as they rarely extend beyond the viewable landscape in front of you. This does aid the flow of Moss: Book II’s narrative yet lacks the satisfaction of completing a brain teaser.
Moss: Book II’s real hook is in its ability to create an emotional bond with Quill, this little plucky mouse. The overall animation is excellent with Quill’s being exceptional. From the way she dodges an attack to the scuttling of her hind legs when she’s trying to climb a high ledge, Quill is alive more than any other VR character. She’ll also put a hand up for a random high-five or you can scratch her head – which she loves – providing delightful little moments in between all the action.
In addition to the animation, all the levels are magnificent to look at, from huge sprawling vistas teasing castles in the background to tightly cramped underground environments, Moss: Book II is a visual feast. These are mainly 180-degree dioramas that encourage you to lean in and inspect them. You have to, in fact. There are scrolls to find and Relic Dust to collect, which you won’t spot by sitting back on the sofa all the time. Plus, it makes playing the game super comfortable as the camera remains static the entire time.
Alas, this does mean PlayStation VR tracking issues can come into play. Getting a closer inspection can make the environment a bit jittery and there were times when Quill was quite far away to comfortably lean in and activate an ability. Then there was always having to remember to keep the controller’s front light facing towards the camera. If not the blue orb that you control can drift and there was the odd occasion where Quill would miss her landing mark because of this.
Moss: Book II builds upon its forebear in so many ways making a hugely worthwhile sequel. Taking around 5-6 hours to complete without collecting everything Moss: Book II isn’t a huge VR game yet it’s a satisfying experience. Whilst not particularly difficult, stepping into Moss and teaming up with Quill is a delight once again, with polished gameplay, more interactivity and visuals you can’t help but soak in. The main problem really is that Moss: Book II ends a bit too soon, as you won’t want it to be over.