Reviewing The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories

#Ramblings
Reviewing The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories

Reviewing The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories

There is nothing like starting up a game you have been anxiously waiting for months or years. It happened to me with Metal Gear Solid V and more recently with La Mulana 2, both excellent games. But it wasn’t the case for The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories, the latest game from SWERY. I learned about it only weeks before its release and then was not sure I even want to play it.

And I was wrong, the game turned out the be a great experience.

Some minor spoilers of the early game ahead, though nothing you wouldn’t see in a trailer. Scroll to the bottom for a spoilerless summary.

The MISSING Screenshot - J.J. Running through the forest
The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

Review

The MISSING (for the sake of staying sane I’ll use this to refer to the game) is a puzzle platformer similar in gameplay to Limbo or Inside. All three feature a lone protagonist going mostly to the right through various biomes or locations and solving creative, rather than purely logical puzzles. What sets them apart the most is the narration, which The MISSING embraces fully via dialogue and text messages, while the other two games rely only on visual language (and one could argue they are more about the mood and feeling than the story).

To solve the puzzles, you use a peculiar ability that J.J. acquires almost at the very beginning – an ability to survive dismemberment and regenerate from it. Sometimes it’s about changed mobility, sometimes it’s about using your body parts, sometimes it’s about something else. Pretty quickly you will also realize that the movement in the game is very physical. J.J. isn’t the fastest runner or the best jumper or the quickest crawler. Think of the original Prince of Persia – the controls have a charm and bizarrely fit the overarching narrative, but it’s one of the weaker points from the perspective of enjoying the puzzle solving. Hold that thought.

The puzzles in the game are simple, though for every chapter of the game there was always one thing that I got more or less stumped on. Thankfully the possibility space is small, and if your lateral thinking fails you, you can still exhaust all possibilities to get the solution.

Visuals are probably another sticking point. For me, it’s easy to forget that if a game is 3D and does not look like Minecraft (or Eldritch), it does not automatically mean it’s an AAA production which has millions of dollars of budget to waste on photorealism. The game looks decent enough to not be bothersome. I wish I could say it’s stylized but it just seems like a game with a modest art budget. But sometimes the visuals are gorgeous.

The MISSING, Moose doctor standing on the background of blue flowers
Say what you want, I find this beautiful. And the surrealism only makes it better.

Audio never goes in the way, and I wish I could say anything about the soundtrack, but I never consciously recognized it. I can’t even remember if the game has music or just ambiance but, whatever it is, it works well in setting the tone. And then there is the lovely theme song. Luckily I noticed the sound effects. It’s hard to miss them, the grunts of J.J. when she is hurt and the cracks of breaking or setting bone. If people popping their knuckles make you shiver you are about to have some fun[1] times.

Unfortunately, the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. For the most part, it won’t bother you, you will likely just ignore it. But sometimes, especially during the more emotional dialogues, there is a disconnect between what the characters seemingly feel and how they pronounce their feelings. I wish there was an optional Japanese dub.

There is one aspect I hadn’t covered yet, the story. The reason I didn’t do that is that it fits into the larger picture of The MISSING being more of an experience than just a game. The game allows you to experience through the medium of a video game and surrealism something and some things.

The MISSING - J.J. is shrinking from an unfriendly saw
There is a lot of attention to detail in the animations

But I refuse to say anything about it though, all I can say is it’s worth the game and that the mechanics masterfully feed to the narrative of the experience. Once you finish, take a step back and look at what you did and what happened in the game and see how well it fits.

What I will tell you is that the majority of the story is narrated through text messages that appear on J.J.’s phone, conversations between her and other people, including her mother and Emily. They are full of charm, tell you a lot about the personality of the main character and come in chunks small enough that they don’t interrupt the flow. Though I wish there were even more.

There are a few finer points that I wanted to mention:

  1. As you collect the secret donuts, you unlock gallery with concept arts and some cosmetic-only cheats.
  2. The game features some action sequences, but they have enough leeway that even those who are unfamiliar with action games will be able to proceed.
  3. The first splash screen at the start of the game is not lying.
  4. Best played in dimly lit room, alone, on headphones.

Summary

I really liked this game. It was an experience that touched me deeply. The story is awesome. The writing is decent, goofy but full of charm. Puzzles are fun. Art is okay. Music is transparent. Sound effects are cracky. A lot of surrealism. Movement is peculiar.

I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone who liked Limbo or Inside, or is a fan of puzzle games, or enjoys surreal elements, or wants games which aspire to be artful but in a non-antagonizing way.

The MISSING - J.J. is in a cathedral facing a big button
I don't trust big buttons rising up from the floor.

Thank you SWERY for making it!

References

  1. I am using the Dwarf Fortress definition of Fun. That is, you are going to have a good time by having a bad time, more or less.