Henry Mosse and the Wormhole Conspiracy review
With so many weird, wacky and wonderful takes on what constitutes an adventure game these days, it’s nice to get back to the basics of a good ol’ point-and-clicker with an emphasis on story, character, and puzzles once in a while. Bad Goat Studios has provided exactly that with Henry Mosse and the Wormhole Conspiracy, a stylish space adventure that embraces its traditional genre heritage while providing a grand journey to exotic new places. While its reach may exceed its grasp on occasion, there is much fun to be had in Henry’s adventure through two delightfully different galaxies.
Discovered as a green-haired baby orphaned in space, Henry Albert Mosse is now fifteen and eager for adventure through the Near and Far Star galaxies. His adoptive mother Seren was once a Far Star Explorer, going on exciting escapades of her own and charting new worlds until the passing of her father. She then settled down into the Mosse Family Supplies shipping business, but even with her son in tow, her heart’s not really in it and the company has been struggling for some time.
Henry is oblivious to the financial situation of the family business; he’s simply excited that his mom is finally letting him go along on new missions. His first is to the planet Axiwan, where he and his mother must deliver supplies to a race of sentient ants, whose queen communicates via a translating megaphone. This is just one of the fun and exciting strange new worlds and new civilizations you’ll encounter throughout the game. You’ll also visit Cape Coocoo, a tailored planet built by far-reaching mega corporations; New Callisto, a desert world whose air is being harvested; and Pluto, now a snowy waste having long since escaped the solar system. Each of these areas contains its own array of different locations. From the noisy and boisterous Party Till the End of Time; to a dusty, sunbaked town; to a solemn, snow-shrouded graveyard, there’s certainly plenty to see here.
Just as diverse are the denizens of these places. Some, like a grumpy ishmoby whale – a sentient bipedal whale of human proportions – and his arrogant human gamer sister are met only in passing and represent little more than puzzle opportunities, while others are more substantial. Bruce, a talking walrus wearing a suit, who may operate on the shady side of the law, is always looking for a way to better his situation. Maax, a mechanic extraordinaire on the lam from Near Star authorities, doesn’t trust easily but is willing to form an uneasy alliance with Henry so long as the two of them can mutually benefit from the arrangement.
And, of course, there are the bad guys. The squat and rotund cyborg CEO Wormhole is gleefully bent on controlling the Near and Far Star galaxies in an almost moustache-twirling sort of way. His subordinate, Merkley Rivera, the Supreme Executive of Outercore Enterprises, considers himself a big shot, but other than looking good for the camera he is not particularly competent at, well, anything. Both characters are immediately recognizable as villainous, and it should come as no surprise that Henry and Seren will ultimately come into conflict with them.
With so many characters, many of whom have at least a little backstory explored through standard, nicely compact dialog trees, it does mean some narrative threads are given short shrift. As Henry wanders through the worlds, turning people’s lives on their ears, at times it feels like there are too many ideas in the game for its own good.
One such example is Bruce, who is initially running a dive bar / coffee shop on Cape Coocoo. When Henry pays Bruce a visit, subsequent events result in the bankruptcy of the establishment, although I’m really unclear on why exactly. This catapults Bruce into a series of frenemy encounters with young Mosse, which later just drop out of the game with Bruce never to be seen again. Similarly, a character who claims to be guarded about trusting people but loyal to them when that trust is earned, is later shown to be only too happy to switch allegiances multiple times with little warning or explanation.
Characters such as these would have been well served by reappearing in the game’s dénouement. However, this is not meant to be as none of the supporting characters with whom Henry has established relationships return for the ending. Given how significant the consequences of the climax are, I would have preferred to see how they affected the various friends and acquaintances made along the way.
The inconsistent storytelling applies to some of the broader themes as well. In the first two or three of the game’s five chapters, it seems as though things are being set up for a rather heavy-handed discourse on racism. Or maybe on the disparity between the one-percenters and the rest of the galactic population. Or possibly even environmental concerns over the ravages caused by mega corporations. While traces of these ideas continue through to the end, they recede so far into the background as to be practically unnoticeable. Perhaps that’s a good thing, though, as Henry’s eternal youthful optimism, coupled with the absurdity of some of the situations he faces – such as perfecting the operation of a hand-carried, heat-proof umbrella – are really at odds with the gravity of modern societal issues. First and foremost, Henry Mosse and the Wormhole Conspiracy wants to be space-faring escapism, and is at its best when fulfilling that role.
Players will spend eight or so hours with Henry Mosse, so it’s a good thing his joy of adventuring is contagious and that his slightly mischievous streak is fun to follow along with, such as when he constructs a robot with his own voice recording to trick his mom into thinking he’s doing his studies on Earth when he’s really sneaking along with her for another outing.
That said, there was one moment that shattered my faith in Henry. Without going into specifics, at one point Henry’s direct actions cause great harm to a somewhat grumpy shop owner, whose only real offense towards Henry was denying him a weapon. (I mean, what shop owner, having just met a strange fifteen-year-old, wouldn’t arm him?) It’s not just that Henry’s actions lead to irreparable damage, but that he then turns towards the camera, smirks, and says, “Well, he deserved it.” Fortunately, the young man isn’t anywhere near so chillingly cold through the rest of the game, but that moment, sadly, is the one that has most stayed with me after completing the tale.
On the puzzle front, Henry Mosse and the Wormhole Conspiracy is largely traditional, featuring mostly inventory-based challenges. These obstacles vary in complexity from the simple use of an item to dowse a torch through to more involved sequences, such as running a series of errands for multiple, interconnected characters in order to secure entrance to the Party Till the End of Time. Tasks falling anywhere on the spectrum can appear throughout the game, with little to increase their challenge over time apart from being able to access a wider array of locations later on.
Many of the tasks in the first three of five chapters can feel like busy work. There is an extended series of puzzles on Cape Coocoo, for instance, in which Henry is promised by a mysterious stranger that all manner of answers and information will be imparted to him once he gets inside the Party till the End of Time. However, the promised information never materializes, which is a bit of a letdown, especially given how much work it takes to get there. Later chapters see Henry much more in the thick of things and working to accomplish more meaningful goals. In that sense, the game gets stronger as it progresses.
Most puzzles are quite fair, providing sufficient context and direction to tease them out in a reasonable manner. However, Henry Mosse does seem to have a tad more than its fair share of challenges whose solutions only really make sense once the puzzle is complete. For example, the complex use of exotic plants on New Callisto provides Henry with several items he needs, but not only the solution but the very reason for manipulating the plants is not clear until the sequence is over. Experienced players will recognize that when a game provides pieces that can be fiddled with, it’s best to do so even if the reason is unclear. Less experienced players may struggle with these sequences, especially since there’s no hint system of any sort, though there is a hotspot highlighter to at least identify the interactive hotspots in each scene.
Aside from the typical inventory puzzles, there are a number of other tasks that help break up the gameplay formula. Whether it’s the downhill skiing arcade game in Bruce’s bar, wherein jumps over obstacles with the push of a button need to be well timed, or using a series of whistles to maneuver a floating robotic hand past electrical discharges, these specialty sections make for a nice change of pace. Well spaced through the adventure, it never feels like these alternate puzzle types overwhelm the rest of the gameplay.
Visually Henry Mosse is quite the treat, with cartoon-styled characters and locations in bright and vivid colours. Cutscenes in particular are well served by the art style, with exciting sequences of derring-do depicted in semi-animated comic book panels that slide onto the screen for the camera to perform various moves on them. In fact, even the in-game backgrounds are hi-res enough that the game frequently zooms in on them too, providing some nice dynamics.
The locations themselves aren’t static either. Whether it’s an air-harvesting machine flying by in the distance on New Callisto, or flickering blue torches on the path to a shrine on Pluto, there’s usually something to give life to each scene. A small touch that particularly caught my attention was the appearance of wanted posters for Henry and Seren late in the story as the two run afoul of the mega corporations. I always welcome changes to the environment over time as the result of your impact, no matter how subtle.
The environments are further rounded out by their thoughtful soundscapes. Ambient noises are intermittent, with some locales filled with the likes of tweeting birds and blowing wind, while others are silent save for the musical score. Never brash or in-your-face, the synthesized strings and keyboards float along in the background. If anything, the music could stand to be a little brasher at times.
Full voice-overs complete the audio work. As befits a game made by Australians, most characters sport Aussie accents, which alone gives Henry Mosse a more distinct feel than other predominantly American-sounding games. The entire cast does a good job, with Henry and Seren particularly pleasing to listen to, with the former’s boyish enthusiasm shining through, and the latter’s maternal concern for her son tempered by the subtle excitement for adventure for herself.
The only drawback is on the purely technical front. A couple of voices, such as that of the dastardly villain Wormhole, fluctuate wildly in volume. It’s not a matter of the actor speaking softer or louder, but that the lines have been recorded at different levels. Then, too, a couple of other characters like Henry’s grandfather are rife with distracting breath pops. On the plus side, there has been obvious attention paid to certain nuances such as applying echo to voices when in sewers.
Henry can be moved around the environment and hotspots interacted with completely with the mouse. Not content to stop there, however, the game provides a few other control options as well. The keyboard mode still requires the mouse to move the pointer around, but instead of mouse buttons to interact you can use keys that can be remapped as desired. Also provided is the ability to play with a game controller. Here the typical mouse pointer still appears on-screen and is moved about with one thumbstick, with buttons on the controller replacing the mouse buttons. These alternate control schemes are fine, but like any point-and-click it is more intuitive with the mouse.
Unfortunately the game does not allow for manual saves, instead recording checkpoints whenever you enter a different location. This worked well for me right up until the end game, at which point the final series of puzzles all takes place in one area, denying the possibility of an interim autosave. This is a shame, because several interactions are required here but various background animations interrupted them and prevented me from completing them, resulting in the game getting stuck. My only recourse was to exit to the main menu, reload the most recent autosave and hope the problem wouldn’t repeat.
Even with a little intergalactic turbulence along the way, Henry Mosse and the Wormhole Conspiracy wonderfully demonstrates that there’s still plenty of life in the classic point-and-click format. A substantial game, perhaps its biggest failing is being too ambitious and trying to do too many things story- and character-wise. But any such difficulties are more than overshadowed by the variety of locations and characters, some nicely complex puzzling, and Henry’s own enthusiasm for adventuring, paired with charming visuals and solid sound design. Ultimately, the eponymous hero’s debut may not be completely out of this world, but it definitely attains enough height to reach orbit.