Munin Review: Wait, what about Yggdrasil?
I’ve said that the abstract nature of puzzle games supports abstract storytelling, favoring a trail of narrative breadcrumbs over laborious expository cut-scenes. Puzzles drive the game and scraps of storytelling tell it when to turn. Gojira’s Munin is built on a different relationship: Puzzle and story are now both driving, but in separate vehicles travelling in opposite directions, one to the end of the game ,and the other toward an incomprehensible rendition of Norse mythology.
You play as Munin the raven, Odin’s messenger, who has been transformed by Loki into a mortal girl. Munin has fallen from Asgard into the nine realms of the World Tree Yggdrasil and must now collect her lost feathers in order to return to her utopian home.
This becomes apparent only after consulting Munin’s Steam page. I speak no hyperbole in saying that if the above story is in fact contained within the game, it is conveyed so vaguely and through such forced prose—a bastardized hybrid of Roman vernacular and old English—that it is rendered impossible to follow.
Interestingly, the puzzling gameplay both redeems and condemns. With the addition of a rotation mechanic allowing squares of the world to be turned to your liking, 2D puzzling is made more engaging. However, it is simultaneously pushed further from the Norse lore it claims to follow. Barring the occasional loading screen and its flash of text—ham-fisted and unhelpful text, mind—the reason behind your actions is scarcely mentioned, much less explained.
Fortunately, the puzzles themselves are quite good.
Levels are divided into squares which can be rotated 90 degrees by clicking them. However, you may not be within the selected square as it rotates, meaning you’ll spend quite a lot of time running back and forth between newly created paths (yes, this does become tedious). Things become more complex when squares are connected—that is, rotating one also rotates others, although not necessarily in the same direction. You’ll discover these pairs by accident, as no squares are visually distinguished or connected except by a slight highlight seen only when actively selecting them, so you will have to plan your movements accordingly as you chase after each level’s random allotment of feathers.
The rotation mechanic is fun to play with. Connecting otherwise divided ladders and creating pathways out of once pointless bits of earth is satisfying, and brings about more than one “Ah-ha!” moment. Manipulating levels also displaces hazards such as spikes and embers, which helps keep traversing (read: backtracking through) your rearrangements from getting old. The addition of kinetic objects such as boulders also introduces new dangers and tools: Rotate poorly and you’ll wind up crushed, but you’ll need the rocks to form bridges and stairs so they can’t be avoided outright.
Sadly, variety is matched both in consistency and prevalence by mistake. The fact that individual squares are not seen until moused over further aggravates the visual confusion created by the game’s aesthetic. Prominent strokes resembling pastel work make for excellent atmosphere, to be sure, but also for annoyingly hidden death-traps. Similarly, it’s often difficult to determine whether you’re in a square since their boundaries are not clearly visible. This problem is only compounded by a rollercoaster of a difficulty curve which plops abnormally complex solutions into early levels, only to drop back to “baby’s first puzzler” in the next—a problem itself compounded to diamond-rivaling hardness by unreliable and unchangeable controls. Munin still floats like the raven she once was, and has a nasty habit of sliding (into her frustrating death) long after you’ve released the movement keys.
Funnily enough, the most offending fault is proudly highlighted on Steam. Munin features “nine amazing worlds, 81 exciting levels and roughly 7 hours of enjoyable playtime,” it reads.
Those worlds stop being amazing after the first four, because that’s when the idea well (possibly Urd’s well?) runs dry. This translates into roughly 40 levels packed with puzzling’s greatest sin: repetition.
Never mind how absurd a level count 81 is for such involved puzzles. No, really; don’t mind it. Don’t mind how infuriating it is to have ten minutes of progress reset because you failed to notice the incalculably small and heretofore harmless spikes that mesh with the backdrop so cleanly that you can only assume Gojira is screwing with the fallen raven. Especially don’t mind the fact that the aforementioned boulders are virtually invisible when some squares are aligned in certain ways—in this case, certain meaning the fucking way they’re supposed to be aligned.
Lengthening a game simply by tacking on arbitrarily—and in this case, very ironically—rearranged levels is shallow design. If you can have too much of a good thing, you can certainly have too much average. Gojira should have quit when they were on top, back when Yggdrasil had spunk and wasn’t a monotonous corn maze. It certainly started off strong, but it’s no wonder Munin was anxious to get back to Asgard. Hell, I was daydreaming of white clouds and marble thrones—anything but the disappointingly familiar puzzles before me—by level 35.
Munin spent far too much thinking about what a great game it could be and forgot to actually try it out. The wholly interesting Norse lore it heralds is leaps and bounds above its patchwork narrative. More damning is how it wrongly opts for quantity over quality. Puzzles are enjoyable when new ideas and challenges are continually added, but that intrigue quickly burns out, so much so that the latter stages of the game are genuinely tiresome. Munin delivers striking, if a bit crude, visuals and a pleasant soundtrack but is ultimately dragged down to the dragon’s roots by technical hitches and design oversights outnumbered only by our titular protagonist’s lost feathers.