Don’t think. React.
See, it’s quite simple to describe The Sun and Moon: control a small sphere with one goal, help him navigate his way around multiple levels, pick up three small pin pricks of orbs, before heading off and jumping through the wormhole that represents the end of the stage. It’s as simple as that. Apart from it’s not simple. It’s damn hard.
Your character, if I can call it that, is a very tiny round guy whose only features are a couple of even smaller eyes. He can jump, and he can move left and right, and he’ll need to do both in order to navigate past the evil, destructive obstacles in his way. But his real party trick is that he can phase his way through walls and platforms, utilising momentum, motion and a change in gravity as he dodges spiked spinning wheels of death and other emotionless obstacles along the way. And when combined with lightning quick reactions from the gamer, these things ensure The Sun and Moon works brilliantly.
And that is pretty much it for over 150 of the finest stages you’re likely to find on a puzzler. There are the odd ‘end of world boss levels’ which mix it up ever so slightly, dropping in an ‘evil guy’ who chases you around the stage, but on the whole that is The Sun and Moon in a nutshell. You’ll find these concluding stages every 20 levels or so, but other than the ping of an achievement, and change of level background screen, that’s the only way you’ll realise you are progressing. That’s because the well created level navigation screen allows you to pretty much go off and experiment with whatever is in place. Yes, you’ll need to unlock each stage, but if you so wish, you could jump from an early stage, skip through a ton of the middle and hit one of the tougher, latter ones. Should you so wish of course.
You probably won’t though, as doing so really does put you on the back foot, wondering how on earth you’re meant to complete what is on front of you. Instead, running through things in numerical order allows the developer, Daniel Linssen, to take you through the overall learning process on a step-by-step process. The Sun and Moon is still hard, but it’s just about doable should you practice enough. And yes, I’ve been sat here failing to complete a level after at least 200 attempts.
The key to a good puzzler though is for the gamer to have a sense of achievement at the end of a hard day. The levels in place shouldn’t be easy, but similarly, they can’t cross the line and frustrate more than they pleasure. There does however also need to be a rather taxing element, one that pushes the average gamer’s brain just enough for those moments of euphoria to hit home.
The Sun and Moon does that. Just. But I’m sat here now wondering if it could all be a little bit better.
You see, much of my issue with Linssen’s timed puzzler is that the overall goal, that of earning as many full Sun and Moon awards as possible, is just too far out of the reach of any average gamer. Par times are a must for any skill based puzzler such as this – giving the player a goal and asking them to hit it as much as possible always goes down well – but after many hours of trying, I’ve come to the conclusion that the three targets put in place for each of the couple of hundred or so puzzles in The Sun and Moon are pretty much unobtainable. Unless of course you’re some kind of gaming ninja, in which case you’ve probably got little to care for anyway and would prefer to go and save the world in a completely different way.
I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say that a good few half moon awards – the lowest objective, the bronze medal if you like – are possible, but after that I’ve got little idea of how to grab the rest. Even then, this gamer has been left with less than a 10% hit rate on that too. Perhaps my 40+ years are beginning to show, and I’ll admit to not having the quickest reactions in the gaming world, but I’m going to go out on whim and say very few others will a) ever get close to completing The Sun and Moon and b) ever manage to grab even a handful of full Sun rewards. It’s not like I’m just a couple of milliseconds out either…I’m actually at a point where I believe the times required are an impossibility.
But thats not to say that The Sun and Moon isn’t good. It bloody well is. The physics – one of the main draws of the game – are pretty much spot on and the need to embrace the momentum of your little sphere-y guy is stunning. Everything else is fluid beyond belief too. It needs to be though, because The Sun and Moon would only ever work with utterly perfect controller input and completely precise movement. Every single pixel counts in this game and the developers should be applauded for creating something so good… and so damn addictive.
It is that addiction which is a huge draw too, with this being one of the most ultimate of ‘one more go’ titles. You see, dying and failure is a gimme, but no matter how many times you crash and burn, you’ll be back into the action in a mere instant. There is no waiting around in The Sun and Moon, either in terms of gameplay or in the relatively modest menus. Thankfully that then allows you to go with the flow, trying to eradicate your previous mistakes and power on through to success.
But no matter how good it is, there are a couple more negatives, which when coupled with the high difficulty rating, stop The Sun and Moon from hitting the real highs.
Firstly there are no checkpoints, and even the pause button puts you right back to the start of a level. Now, admittedly the levels are super quick affairs, with some being over in just a couple of seconds, but there are times when you need to take your time, you need to get lucky and you need all the help you can get. It’s frustrating beyond belief, and pretty much Sod’s law therefore, that as you finally, slowly make your way past those obstacles you’ve been battling with a hundred times already, that the phone rings, or the kids require assistance. Muscle memory sees me reach for the pause button every single time – before instantly regretting it.
The audio tracks that accompany the simple visuals are also a bit annoying. I’ve not yet got to the point where I need to mute their 8-bit randomness, but they most certainly err on the side of headache inducing. I have to admit that they are well created and work well with the minimalist visuals though, bringing forward a sense of what is required in The Sun and Moon, but I’d be just as happy to roll without them.
Finally, and this is a big miss for me, but there are absolutely no leaderboards that give you the chance to earn bragging rights over your mates. When the gold, silver and bronze medal substitutes are so far out of reach, I need something to give me some sense of achievement. I need something to keep me going back, if and when I ever manage to make it through the entirety of The Sun and Moon. Besting the times of my online mates seems like a reasonable request and I can’t believe it’s been omitted from the get-go.
But that all said, I love this game. I may not have completed it, chances are I’m going to struggle with a few of the stages for days, weeks and months on end, and I’ve more or less given up even trying to pick up half moon, full moon and full sun rewards, but the overall sense of achievement that The Sun and Moon gives in just the bog standard completion of a stage, is enough of a reason for me to keep playing.
As long as I stop thinking and just react, then I reckon I should be alright. Just.