“Momodora II” Review
Note: in blatant defiance of the Arabic numbering system we have used for over seven hundred years, Momodora II has decided to use the archaic and arbitrary Roman method of numbering, which confuses computers the world over, makes the name of the game a mispelling if a reviewer types “2” instead of “II”, and also makes kittens cry. As Practical Typography asks, “Quick: what number is XLIX?”. Or in other words, never use Roman numerals, unless you’re creating a period piece based in 150 BCE.
There is this horrifying feeling that plagues every player with a decent mind and taste above the riff – raff that so often plagues our industry… namely, the feeling of having your opinion change. The human brain would sooner commit total existence failure than admit to being wrong about whether or not Corporate Mascot Fighter Four is better or worse than Corporate Mascot Fighter Two: Revenge of the Neckbeard, regardless of them being children’s party games designed to extend the lifespan of Video Game Company’s less – and – less relevant properties in the face of a continually declining industry that they remain the figurehead of despite being one of the essential reasons why that industry is failing, threatening their fans with legal notices, taking down YouTube footage of games that lets them record said footage, attacking modders with permanent and arbitrary online bans because they had the gall to modify the $400 system that they paid for and would own if not for nonfree EULAs, all the while still having legions of defenders that look past this omnipresent issues that have existed since the company’s first foray into video games in the 1980s, essentially being a Japanese bureaucracy that sees no reason whatsoever to change even in the face of a world where entire subcultures are created and destroyed in a matter of months, creating a cult mentality that continues to make said company the laughing stock of the industry even as its two major competitors shoot themselves in the foot as they fail to listen to the demands of their customer bases in favour of aimlessly lumbering around with no rhyme or reason, owing their success to the random whims of Chaos and enough marketing to make sales to what you might call sheep, in the absense of any evidence otherwise.
Not naming any names, of course.
Anyway, here’s Momodora “Eye Eye”. Seriously, rdein, why did you title your game like that? Why did you make your username lowercase? I see you not only have a grudge against mathematically consistent forms of numbering, but also against proper nouns. So Momodora Eye Eye is… ugh. I want to be nice to it. I want to start my review off all nice and peachy. I want to talk about how the gameplay is significantly better – designed, how the æsthetic makes sense and isn’t arbitrary anymore, how there’s a level of imagination here that takes inspiration from older games without ripping them off and creates something beautiful because of it, and how it’s proof that a horrible first showing isn’t any indication of future work. I really do.
But for fuck’s sakes, “Momodora II”? Not “Momodora 2”? Why did you have to resurrect this awful, syntactically – invalid form of sequel designation where you choose not to use the symbols that were literally designed to designate mathematical values, instead using the symbols that are only to be used for the purposes of creating the fundamental building blocks of language: words. Perhaps I should give you II stars out of V, or designate this as my XLVIth review on this MMXVII – VII – XI, reviewing this title released on MMXIV – VII – XXIV at XXII:XLVI. Does this make any rhyme or reason to you? Of course not, because it was a designation used by a civilisation that had not invented anything better, remained in use out of tradition rather than any logical or pragmatic reason, and continues to be used by the unthinking masses that do not understand the importance of a consistent base system in an era which requires things to be consistent more often than they are not.
I realise this is ultimately as trivial as the tabs vs. spaces debate, even though those who use spaces to indent are those who would be arrested for fucking horses, but it’s a sign of our times that we have the option to use systems that are objectively better, make more sense to everyone who uses them, and cause no confusion whatsoever as to what the system means, and yet we choose not to use those systems because of “tradition”… the force of nature which causes us to be ignorant because we have always been ignorant, and ignorance has worked out for us well so far, so why not continue to be ignorant? It takes effort to be a rational, thinking human being, takes effort to change your habits for the sake of being a better person, and it takes effort to want to be excellent in all areas of their life, from the simplest things to the most complex. Roman numerals? Trivial, yes. But if it isn’t a sign of our downfall that we are still using them after thousands of years, then you can pick the dozens of other signs floating around this blue – green ball of dirt we inhabit.
And now for what you came for
Momodora the One Which Came After the First Momodora but we Decided Not to Use the Number 2 to Indicate This is pretty much like the first one, only with a Not the Number 2 at the end of the title. I could go over the changes, but the first one sucked, so why would you care what changed? You play as Momo, though the plot amounts to “beat up that demon lady”, so it doesn’t matter. You travel across a bunch of different environments to achieve that goal, with functional gameplay and platforming that doesn’t really get your blood flowing but works out well regardless. The challenge, you see, goes from “not even a thing” before boss battles, and “a thing” during them. The combat consists entirely of smashing the attack key while close enough to your enemy, and you can also throw cards at them. Autofire? Hahaha…
Quick question: why do we fight enemies? The answer should be simple; it’s fun to fight enemies, and without them, there would be no game. So if it turns out not to be fun to fight, then what’s the use? Because the enemies might have good stuff, of course. Not to be like Aristotle and ask a bunch of questions in pursuit of some Grand Answer, but my smaller answer to as to why we fight enemies can be summed up thusly: we fight because it’s more worthwhile than not fighting. Whether it be enjoyment, in – game loot, or a sense of accomplishment, we do it because the alternative is less worthy. But if the alternative of being a pacifist is more worthy, then we will instead take that route. Developers are therefore forced to make every aspect of their game enjoyable, whatever those aspects may be. If you bank on your combat being the only point of enjoyment, and it turns out to be awful, then you have an awful game. Indeed, we typically see the best of the best games either does one thing so well it overshadows all its failings, or we have a plain – old good game that does everything just right.
I wouldn’t say the combat is very fun, even with the dash attack which just led me to kill myself, because the game can’t tell when I want to dash and when I’m repositioning myself with the twelve or so pixels I have to attack with. It’s too simplistic and never evolves past the first few minutes, which doesn’t give it much replay value, unlike Deus Ex per say. Yes, I’m comparing this indie game to Deus Ex; you have to learn from your masters if you want to get better. The thing about good games is that their combat grows as the game does, giving you new challenges to face with the new weaponry you acquire… a bit formulaic, yes, but one of the hardest lessons an artist can learn is that formulas can help as well as hurt.
A fair comparison would be Cave Story, which this game ripped off a lot; to clarify, “ripping off” something good is almost always what an artist should do, because it creates better work than if they tried to create something original and yet terrible. For instance, I’ve been ripping off guys like Yahtzee as long as I’ve known them. Bet you didn’t notice, eh? To use more polite terms, it’s called “inspiration”, but there’s really no difference. The thing about Cave Story is that there’s always a reason to go into combat, which is to earn weapon upgrades, or just to have this alien thing known as “fun”. The enemies were all unique enough to pose a challenge, and so were their numbers, unlike in this game where they are both in small numbers and tend to recycle the same mechanics. Æsthetically they’re unique, but beyond the typical mix of “walk into them and take damage” or “avoid their bullet or take damage”, there’s not much to remark on.
About those æsthetics
Æsthetics really is the word of the month, isn’t it? It’s almost as often as Uniquenameosaurus says “theory”. I’m not an art critic, at least not anymore, so my knowledge of what art styles mean to games in particular is limited to that of mechanical design, æsthetic cohesion, sensibility within the story, psychology of art, the definition of beauty, comparisons of minimalism and maximalism, colour theory and symbolism, intuitive design, user interface as a framing device, plot – world cohesion development and integration, hotswapped terminology adapted on a per – game basis, practical considerations of current technology and application of said technology to form techniques given such limitations, and composition. Given this limited knowledge, I try my best. And no, I’m not one of those guys who go on 4chan and post about anatomy on every single thread. For one, the artist knows it sucks. For two, if all you’re looking at is the character (or the character’s tits), you’re not looking at the entire piece.
The enemy design? It’s pretty creative, I would say. I mean, getting past the spooky eyeballs that clutter games like rats clutter my room. Going past the first area, you see such joys as a cat holding a lantern, a maid who sweeps up death, a floating spirit that shoots hyper beams, and the plot coupon that is the spooky demon lady. It’s really one of those things that video games do so well, creating a bunch of functional designs that couldn’t be put into any other medium, because there’s no need to apply a massive amount of animations to every single design thanks to differing standards. If you put thirty characters into a Western cartoon, the animators will riot. But doing that in a video game is all standard fare. Of course, the Japanese do this a lot more often with their anime and manga, silly them for working harder than us.
The level design, being a nonlinear thing that still demands some required upgrades and because of which doesn’t suffer the typical Metroid issue of having to backtrack everywhere to pick up that one obscure health pack you may or may not have seen in an odd space, is pretty good starting out, and is even better once you get the double – jump ability and platforming becomes a suggestion instead of an obligation. The frustration of getting lost is a non – issue because of how small the levels are, and even then you can bring up a minimap at any point, adding in a new frustration of having to stare at the thing all the time. It’s actually like Deus Ex in that aspect, making you memorise level layouts. It would be fun if more games would do that… humans are built to memorise spacial information, and most of us don’t explore our own world enough to utilise that.
Like the satisfaction of memorising a Counter – Strike map to find the perfect spot to hide with your instant – kill shotgun, the satisfaction of being able to see the unique locales is just as great. Video games, too, excel at letting us explore brand new worlds. Just check out a Spyro game for an example of that, which I still maintain as having some of the best world design of any video game. If you don’t know Spyro, swap it out for Minecraft or something. Momodora, with its addition of a little bit of context to its environment (you’re a shrine maiden, you see, in a spiritual place), sidesteps the problem of it all being nonsense in the first game. See what I meant about plot – world cohesion? And you thought I was spouting nonsense…
Because of this, the game allows it to involve itself in nearly any sort of ghostly or spiritual environment, like what the Castlevania series allows for. You get a spooky dining hall, a spooky nighttime shrine basement, a desolate and flowery overworld, and your typical Hell world — stock video game final level #3, after floating castle and your mom’s dungeon. You can’t get lost thanks to these areas, because they’re all so distinct from each other, and too small to get lost in them. For good measure, they’re segregated by big metal hallways, also adding to the world’s mystique. One thing I don’t understand is why they’re all named as pseudo – Latin titles such as “Angelus Errare”, when your standard title such as “Home Base” would be much more indicative and memorable. Remember that DOOM’s famous E1M1 was named “Bunker”, and calling it something like “Terra Nova Primus” would have just been pretentious. And that’s what these Latin names are: a pretentious attempt to create intrigue without actually doing anything to earn it.
One other thing: the music is — and I hate myself for saying this — good. Every other damn game has a “good” soundtrack, where it’s passable enough to be perfectly functional as what you might call “game music”. Critics and fans talk about music all the time, saying that it’s “good”, that the soundtrack is one of the best parts of the game. Poppycock! If I don’t want to listen to it in my free time, and in the vast majority of cases I don’t, then it can’t be as good as what you describe. Even Undertale 2: Electric Boogaloo had what you might call a “good” soundtrack, and I still found each track instantly forgettable (except for Death by Glamour, my guilty pleasure, even though it’s still too complex for my tastes). Whatever drugs in those critics brain that make them feel happy feelings for listening to overblown tracks who think the best way to add emotional investment is to put More More More into their composition, which most of the time you need Less Less Les, I don’t get. So when I say that this game has a good soundtrack, then you can rest assured knowing it is of significantly higher quality than the typical trite that passes for “good” music in most circles. Still doesn’t beat Katawa Shoujo, though. Nothing can…
And that’s pretty much what Momodora Next Time Use a 2 is: good. It’s a good game with good graphics and good art design with good gameplay that overall isn’t terrible at all, even considering the final boss’s seizure ball that you bounce back and forth, as seen in the Big Book of Final Boss Ideas #2 (now only 25¢!). It never reaches highs as high as it could, nor does it have any lows, and even as I consider what happened with Momodora The First One Also With The Letter I But I Took It Out Because I Don’t Have Time For That Nonsense, I still think of it as an average title, though one considerably more inspired than most “average titles”. You have to understand that you can still enjoy an average game, and there’s nothing wrong with taking inspiration from its best parts. But for me, if something doesn’t blow me away and wish I had made it, then I can’t rate it any higher than as just a solid title.
There is a lot of talent and competency on display here, a competency sorely absent from the first title, and is something that developers can take inspiration from, but would be better off taking inspiration from the games that this game takes inspiration from, not to turn “inspiration” into the new “æsthetic”. The question, as always, is “should you play it?”. And the answer is “maybe”. If you really have nothing better to play, go ahead. But don’t be too disappointed, even if it looks pretty.