One thing I love about what I do is being able to pick up a game, based purely on looks and maybe a short trailer, and being completely sideswiped by the actual experience on offer. It’s often the smaller indie games that hold the power to surprise and Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey is one such example.
You play as Bilby, who is desperately searching for her children after widespread flooding separates them and threatens all other wildlife on the surface. Bilby is her name, and also her species and for those who aren’t aware – a Bilby is an endangered desert marsupial. The Macrotis is a type of Bilby, which explains the game’s title.
You’re introduced to Bilby through an opening cutscene comprising of some beautifully drawn stills, showing how she has been separated from her children. This is also reflected in the 2.5D graphical style which, despite a few rough edges, looks lovely on the whole.
Not only this, but the soundtrack is a wonderful accompaniment to the game even though there are only a handful of tracks to listen to. Still, the music is full of sadness, uncertainty and dread, reflecting Bilby’s emotions as she searches for her children. It’s what the game does best.
As well as this, Bilby’s voice acting is brilliant. It makes the character completely authentic; you care for her and effortlessly tune in to how she is feeling. Put simply, it’s straightforward but effective storytelling.
Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey is essentially a puzzle platforming adventure, and you help Bilby navigate through numerous hazardous environments. As you explore, you’ll also stumble across collectables that aren’t always easy to reach, but they are worth seeking out as they will help you learn more about the world around you.
There are four chapters to play through, each with a different setting bringing new dangers and puzzles to solve. Things start off pretty simple with you essentially needing to avoid falling into rivers and other bodies of water, as you cannot swim.
However, as you progress things get more difficult, with some puzzles that will genuinely stop you in your tracks, requiring quite a bit of thought. These seemingly pop up at random, with no smooth, predictable difficulty curve. What develops things further is that Bilby picks up new abilities as she explores.
Before long you encounter an elderly wizard who grants you a spirit ability. This means you’ll be able to separate your spirit from your body, and go exploring ahead to clear a path for Bilby. In this spirit form, you’ll also be able to pass through walls and move blocks, but your weightlessness will mean you cannot activate pressure switches.
Another ability your wizard friend will grant you is the skill to build walls. You can have a maximum of three active at any one time, so you’ll need to choose where you build them carefully. Puzzles that require a combination of your skills to solve are the most challenging, but also all the more rewarding.
There are also some really fun “on rails” puzzles to beat. One such example is centred on Bilby waiting on a platform which is rising in line with the water level, whilst on the other side her spirit form races to open barriers and clear hurdles before she meets an untimely end. It’s an example of how the game mixes up the puzzles to keep things interesting, and it works.
All in all, Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey on Xbox One is a charming little platformer that will have you scratching your head at times. You’ll most likely clear it in a few short hours, but it’s fun whilst it lasts.