Green Moon review
Who hasn’t looked up at the moon at some point, wishing for a chance to be there? Well, the space shuttle might not have your name on the next flight list, but luckily a new game from Absolutist gives players that chance, though the promise of a lunar visit isn’t all fun and games. Green Moon is a pleasant little adventure that takes players through time and space on a quest to make the moon inhabitable, but its formulaic gameplay and the lack of any real story do bring it back down to earth somewhat.
After inheriting an aging house, players soon find an old tome written by the mysterious ‘Children of the Moon’. Inside are directions for preparing different magical spells, including time travel, invisibility, and making the moon “green”, but only by searching through different time periods and locations will you find all the ingredients to prepare the spells. This idea of magically terraforming the moon is an interesting one, though unfortunately there’s not much more to the plot than a widespread scavenger hunt to get you on your way.
The various characters are also very flat, as you don’t really learn anything about them, including the anonymous protagonist. That’s a shame, since you’ll have a chance to interact with many different people from various eras during your travels. From a king in the Medieval Ages to Neanderthals caring for a mammoth to the Greeks being threatened by incoming Romans, you must look to these characters for specific spell ingredients in order to proceed. To get these items, however, you’ll usually have to help them with a problem first, and your assistance typically involves playing a minigame, solving a puzzle, or performing a fetch quest for yet another object they need. Like many download-only lite adventure games, there are no voices for any of the characters in this game, and there are no dialogue choices available, making all conversations a brief, strictly one-sided affair.
Throughout your adventure, Green Moon uses a simple point-and-click slideshow presentation. Players move or turn by clicking directional arrows on all four sides of the screen when applicable, while a footprint indicator appears anywhere else you can walk to change locations. A smart cursor reveals all usable objects and provides a simple text description of non-interactive items just by holding the cursor over them, while some objects allow for a close-up view. Collecting items is a two-step process, requiring you to manually place everything in the inventory once selected, or you can click again to put them back where they were, which you may wish to do more often than you’d expect. While in hand, using items simply involves clicking them on objects in the environment or other inventory to combine, though there’s no visible indication of which items can be used where, which often results in unintentionally dropping the item on the ground. You can also right-click to use certain items on yourself, like eating a piece of cheese, blowing out a match, or reading the scattered notes you find.
The inventory plays a huge part in this game, as there are plenty of objects to pick up along the way. In fact, there is way more to pick up than you can possibly carry at any one time. Like any good adventure gamer, at the beginning you’ll be tempted to pick up every single item you see. Well, don’t. Green Moon has a limited amount of space in the inventory, and many times I found myself having to find a convenient room to just put down objects I didn’t need right at that moment. The items stay where you put them, so you don’t have to backtrack to their original positions to reacquire them, but you will need to remember where you left them. Quite a few common objects like coal and water have a never-ending supply, however, so you can return to the same location and get some more, though this makes several of the tasks merely repetitive busywork. It would have been more interesting to search for different ways to fulfill the requirements without falling back on the same few endless items.
Once you’ve hunted down the right ingredients around the world (or above it), you must return home to add them in the correct order into a cauldron. To make the potion into a spell, you must then connect a phrase to the potion. Phrases are presented like small poems, having something to do with the spell you are trying to create, which makes it easy enough to discern which phrase to use with which potion. Like the ingredients themselves, these phrases are scattered on pieces of paper all around, so you’ll need to keep a sharp eye open for those as well.
After different spells are completed, the icon associated with each can be found on the bottom right of the screen, and can be used whenever needed. These icons are color-coded and easy to distinguish from each other. The time travel and location spells lead to sub-screens that display accessible locations, but the game never tells you where to go, so at first it’s simply trial-and-error, going to every single location to see what there is available, and how they might fit together. A more comprehensive map is available on the moon, accessed through another onscreen symbol, which is certainly handy given the sizable grid-based layout of the moon’s surface.
Unfortunately, the formula of collecting items just to unlock new locations to collect more items quickly becomes repetitive. At first the tasks are interesting and engaging, but after doing the same thing time after time, it starts to feel like a chore. Once the guidebook is found, clicking its onsceen icon details the current objective, so players are never in doubt about what they should be doing, though it doesn’t note the many obstacles that exist to achieve it. The book lists many different ingredients needed to make potions, but often it doesn’t name the ingredients outright. Instead, it gives hints for players to think of what ingredient would work. One item listed is a mistletoe branch, for example, but there aren’t any just laying around, so you’ll have to think how this object might be used in everyday life. You’ll also discover many scraps of paper that give you smaller clues about how to proceed.
For a little variety, sprinkled around the game are eight standalone puzzles or minigames, whether it's cooking meals, fishing, or drunkenly shooting cans with a pistol to win the respect of a cowboy. Most of the activities are pretty easy, besides a rather refreshingly challenging slider puzzle near the end, and several of them fit the context without feeling forced, though some feel like they are only there to provide another puzzle. Overall, however, these tasks are a nice break from the repetitive fetch quests. Some of them are timed, but this doesn’t pose much of a problem, since the game provides plenty of time for even the slowest of players, providing you know what to do. It would still be a good idea to save often, however, as there are many times when you can die, like failing a minigame or being poisoned by a snake, and the game doesn’t just restore you to try again immediately.
The graphics in Green Moon are fairly simply designed but very bright and cheerful, with lots of color on every screen. The diverse environments range from a sunset over a lake to a Mayan pyramid to a volcano gushing with lava. Better still, very few of these locations are static. Whether it’s a crackling fire, pterodactyls gliding overhead, or a thick fog rolling along the ground, there is usually some kind of ambient animation to help bring the scenery to life. The characters, on the other hand, hardly move at all, and a few too many of the male characters look like the same person. The audio in Green Moon fits the different locations pretty well. Some areas don’t have any music at all, relying strictly on environmental sounds like flies buzzing around the kitchen of the house. Other areas are full of music that generally suits the time period and culture, like the visit to a Spanish governor’s office.
Green Moon is not a long game, but nor is it as short as many downloadable titles, taking me a few full evenings to finish. At its best, it can be a fairly fun game that continually opens up new locations to explore, but the lack of any real plot and the repetitive nature of the puzzles does limit its appeal, and the cumbersome inventory design falls well short of the more user-friendly interfaces we’re used to. While it isn’t as complex or challenging as it could have been, however, anyone in the mood for a lite adventure experience full of inventory collection and interesting environments will find a game that nicely fills the space between larger, deeper games.
As an inventory-based, puzzle-centric adventure, Green Moon can be a fun little diversion, but it doesn’t provide much narrative substance to round out the experience.