The Path of Motus PC Review
Unique musical score
Endearing art style
Deals with an important topic
Engaging puzzle mechanic
Repetition in the character design
Difficult sections bordered on unfair
A Walk (and Jump) in the Woods
Every so often, gamers as a group take a collective step back and question what a game is. In the old days, games were score chasers, quarter eaters that kept the player engaged in the hope that they would see their three initials posted on the arcade machine. As technology advanced, games became sophisticated enough to tell stories, eventually giving gamers moving narratives that topped ‘Game of the Year’ lists and kept them coming back again and again.
In many ways, it feels like the industry has regressed, with multi-million dollar budgets making games too big of an investment to play it anyway but safe, as indicated by the yearly installments of game series like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, games where stories play a role, but take a backseat to high-octane action and shiny graphics.
Enter the indie game scene. With huge companies making safe investments year to year, it falls on the shoulders of indie developers to make waves, to deliver something unique, and to take gaming down roads that are seldom traveled. MichaelArts, a two-person team made up of developer Michael Hicks and artist Gonçalo Antunes are eager to do their part with their latest game The Path of Motus.
After the mixed reviews and moderate success of Pillar, their previous title that explored themes of psychology and personality, they are back again with The Path of Motus, a puzzle platformer that aims to meld interesting puzzles, action-platforming, and a touching story about following your dreams, despite the odds and opposition.
The Path of Motus is ostensibly a platforming adventure, about a boy named Motus who uses art supplies, given to him from his father, to build bridges so that he can leave the forest, something that he is repeatedly told is not possible. As he makes his way through the forest, aging from a young boy to an adult along the way, there are bullies, enemies that use their words as attacks to hurt Motus. Motus can attack back, using one of three words that are assigned a color, to defeat the bullies. If the color Motus attacks with is a different color than the bully’s word, the bully’s word will cut straight through and hurt Motus. If the colors match, however, they cancel each other out. Once these cancel, Motus must repeat the word quickly before the bully can in order to defeat him. The combat system is simple, but there were a few times during my playthrough that I became frustrated, trapped between two enemies that were too quick on the draw for me to reasonably engage in combat, or something of the like, and in these moments, it took many deaths and dumb luck for me to proceed.
While the game allows for this combat, there are many situations when Motus can avoid confrontation altogether, making it through the platforming sections without defeating any bullies. If he does, a pop-up occurs, letting the player know that they’ve taken the ‘High Road’, a nice parallel to dealing with confrontation in real life, where choosing to walk away is often the more difficult, but more rewarding, way to handle conflict. At designated points in the game, Motus can’t progress, as there is no way across a chasm. In these moments, the game’s puzzle element occurs. Floating nodes pop up, each with a number. These numbers indicate the number of lines that can be connected to each individual node, but the catch is that there can only be two lines between two nodes, so some close attention must be paid in order to prevent having to restart the puzzles. Once all the nodes are connected, with every number fulfilled, the puzzle is solved. The puzzle then disappears, and a bridge is built, allowing Motus to cross to the other side.
At several points during the game, Motus can engage with NPCs, people living in the forest who are dealing with a myriad of different issues. Some express confusion about their purpose in life, some try to keep Motus from pursuing his goal, and some give concerned advice to Motus regarding his place in this world and his path through life. Similarly, there are floating pages throughout the world that can be read, and they range from Motus’ poems of encouragement to himself and musings about his life, to background information about other characters, such as Motus’ father or his love interest. All of these elements combine together to form an interesting and thought-provoking approach to gameplay, to varying degrees of success.
Because this is a two-person team, the scope of the art and music is limited, but impressive nonetheless. Gonçalo Antunes’ art style is definitely endearing, relying on a mostly cartoony, kid-friendly aesthetic. The animations, however, are a bit stiff, though it never seemed to interfere too much with the platforming. The only other gripe about the art is the repetition. On many levels, I’m sure it’s easier and quicker to draw only a handful of character models, but the repetition in the NPCs started to grate toward the end of the game. The music, composed entirely by programmer Michael Hicks, was the most charming part of the experience for me. It was mostly acoustic ambience, but it deserves a special mention for showing that extra level of dedication and care that went into making the game an engaging experience.
Overall, I felt that The Path of Motus was an uneven experience. For every thing I enjoyed, there was something to detract from the experience. Inventive combat was dragged down by stiff animation and questionable enemy placement, engaging puzzles were dragged down by the repetition of NPCs that were always just off screen. My highest praise goes to the musical score, which combined with the story and the writing to get me to think, which is the goal of MichaelArts and their games at the end of the day. With so many games wanting me to turn my brain off and just enjoy visceral action, it’s refreshing to see indie developers who are committed to crafting unique and introspective gaming experiences, reminding us that games as an art form can move us in many different ways. Pick up The Path of Motus on Xbox One, PS4, and the Steam store, and embark on your own journey of self-discovery.