Monday, October 15

Review: The Missing [Nintendo Switch eShop]


While I’ve played my fair share of titles on the Switch that have caught me by surprise with new ideas or unusual mechanics nothing quite prepared me for The Missing. It’s main character, J.J., goes through a surreal mix of nightmarish dreams mixed with memories as she reflects on themes of friendship, love, and sexuality as well as darker paths, making it only appropriate for an older audience. While it may not be perfect, with some control mechanics reminiscent of the likes of the original Prince of Persia (that’s not a compliment), if you’re looking for something unusual this fits that bill completely.


The story starts out in a bit of a confusing manner, leaving you a bit disoriented as to what’s happening and why, but that seems to be by design. It isn’t until you die in a manner that’s a bit out of your control and then come back through an unusual sort of ritual that it begins to more heavily sink in that you’re not really alive. In fact, very soon after that incident the real mechanics of the game begin to emerge and you’ll find that in order to progress you’ll need to burn, dismember, and decapitate yourself in order to progress. Whether you’re using your own burning body to ignite walls of thorns or throwing a cut off limb of yours to trigger a weight-sensitive trap you’ll in fact need to get quite creative with this somewhat grisly twist on things.


This would all seem far more callous and even a bit disturbing if there weren’t so many attempts to justify your character’s odd journey that you’ll slowly learn primarily through messages she gets on her phone. Whether from the object of her journey, Emily, her mother, her professor, or even her somewhat odd stuffed animal you’ll begin to understand many more mundane aspects of this character, though buried in those ordinary interactions there are insights into who your character is that tended to make getting new messages interesting and somewhat exciting. How this all will culminate will leave you guessing but it’s the character story that’s the game’s true driver.


As strong as the story and unusual puzzle aspects are it’s impossible not to mention how stilted the controls can be with regards to your movement. With a control scheme and locked in animations reminiscent of games from far too long ago you’re able to work through the game but it’s only in spite of the control, which is a shame. Some refinement and nuance would both speed things up and eliminate a lot of needless frustration. In particular, if you’re trying to capture all of the collectible donuts that are about you’ll need to show some patience and persistence.


I suppose the greatest compliment I could pay The Missing is that I’ve never quite played anything like it in terms of its story, tone, and mechanics. The use of the character’s phone as a means to convey their story and reveal their personality through interactions with others is similar to the Lost Phone titles and it’s a very modern and smart way to create sort of personal lore in a way that feels very natural. Throw in the need to kill yourself in all sort of ways as a means of progression and there’s no questioning it is following its own path. If you’re ready to deal with some pretty mature issues and can deal with both the less-than-great controls and repeated screams of agony as do your character harm in the name of progress The Missing is likely not a game you’ll forget.


Score: 8

Pros:
  • Interesting and complex characters revealed slowly through text messages and snippets of story
  • A unique puzzle mechanic that literally requires killing your character in a number of ways and using her burning or broken body to solve unique puzzles
  • Story beats and interactions that can be heavy and mature, if you’re the right audience for that

Cons:
  • The controls are very stilted, reminiscent of those you’d find in far older titles
  • You’ll need to work out some puzzles on your own through trial and error as sometimes what is possible or needs to be done isn’t quickly apparent
  • A few glitches with in-game objects required going back to the beginning of the chapter