In 1966, the residents of Point Pleasant in West Virginia started seeing a strange man-sized bird creature prowling the local area. This was picked up across the USA by all the papers and the myth of the Mothman began. The story then moved to book, relating it to the collapse of a bridge in the area, later made into a film starring Richard Gere. Mothmen 1966 is a game inspired by that story, location, and 1960s America. It tells a tale of different characters’ viewpoints, mixing the supernatural and the unusual in a remarkable story.
Visual Novels or “pixel pulp” have become increasingly popular over the last few years on console. Often cheap alternatives to buying a book or magazine, gamers have loved flicking through these stories, enjoying playing through the narrative. Often the gameplay is simple and it’s about making choices in the dialogue options which affect a different ending to the story. In this case with Mothmen 1966, that element of storytelling is still there, but there are also some interesting and unique gameplay elements added in to this experience. But let us start with the story.
The narrative is separated into chapters and told through the eyes of three different characters: Holt, Victoria, and Lee; all set over one night in Virginia. Victoria and Lee are a couple of teenagers, hooked up as a couple. Lee is taking Victoria for a surprise dinner in the woods to see the stars. Soon they experience something supernatural and meet a writer who is an expert in all things occult. Holt is a middle-aged gas station worker, found in those woods, and is met by some very strange government men dressed in black; they ask odd questions and do exceptional things.
The writing and character development are well written and nuanced throughout. Mothmen 1966 is also very clever in knowing its sci-fi references and nods to other pieces of art. I was totally engrossed with the narrative that unfolds and it reminded of a cross between an X-Files episode and something from David Lynch.
Most of the gameplay is quite basic, but that is something which is the norm for a visual novel game. You get dialogue options that come up, leaving you to respond in certain ways that don’t really affect the overall story. But throughout the game, there are some little mini-games and action sequences too. Early on there is a section where Holt is arranging shelves and you get involved in that, making sure everything matches. There is a brilliant twist on a game of Solitaire as well; nicely you can play separately from the game menus if you wish. There are also basic X-Com-styled strategy sections where you have to select the best options to avoid enemy attacks.
These additions do lift this from a normal visual novel setup, but you should be aware that this is still very text-heavy; if you are not into reading, then this might not be the game for you.
The visuals employ an old pixel art technique that reminds of games on the old ZX Spectrum. But don’t let that put you off because the design and images on show are expertly crafted, edited together to make it feel fluid and modern. I think the retro feel of the visuals perfectly compliments the story as well and it has a great classic graphic novel feel about it. The soundtrack is nice too; a great moody synth track and scary sounds that fit the mood perfectly as well.
Mothmen 1966 is one of the better visual novels to have popped up over the last few years. It has a great sense of atmosphere, tone, and characterisation, whilst the subject matter is also clever, mixing fact and fiction well. There’s also a good sense of pace in terms of the editing and visuals. The mini-games are well placed, helping to break up the quite static gameplay these games tend to have, but I would have loved to have seen some voice-over included; it would have been great to have that as an extra option.
Mothmen 1966 is most definitely a visual novel and that’s not going to be for everyone. But for those who love a mystery, they’ll want to come and see if they can find the Mothmen.
Mothmen 1966 is available from the Xbox Store