May 02, 2020

MO: Astray: An Indie Gem

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Topics: Review

MO: Astray is a true indie gem. I happened to find this game while browsing through Steam titles. MO: Astray’s cover art caught my eye. It featured a cute blue blob with two grotesque creatures on the side, featured above. I don’t usually get drawn in by cover art, but I was intrigued.

The ruined world of MO Astray is portrayed in beautiful HD pixel art

MO is a puzzle plaformer set in a post apocalyptic world. MO can move left and right but to jump you need to fling yourself. MO can also stick to walls and jump, although you can’t jump greater than a 90 degree angle. Later, you unlock a double jump and a bash ability that allows you to jump further. The jumping mechanic works but can be difficult when you’re under pressure. Later stages have deadly obstacles that you need to quickly evade, while navigating through perilous spikes. Generous checkpoints make retrying sections never too frustrating.

The platforming puzzles in MO are never too difficult to figure out but can sometimes be challenging to execute

One of the other major mechanics is that MO can attach itself to enemies and control their movements. This is used to solve environmental puzzles. When attached, MO can also read the entity’s thoughts, filling in the blanks of the story. This is a great world building mechanic since it’s optional. The rest of the story is filled in with environmental details, short cutscenes, and comics in-between chapters.

Reading the thoughts of zombies and other inhabitants in the world help fill in the lore

Aesthetically, MO is very striking. There is a dissonance between the very cute protagonist in a grotesque pixel art world. The inhabitants of the world are disturbing zombies and cruel natives, that impale their victims on pitchforks. It reminds me a lot of Limbo.

The music is mostly atmospheric, with a few emotional tunes near the end. Sound design is great. I especially like the plop noise MO makes when moving around the environments. MO also makes a really goofy face when controlling enemies, giving some levity to the dark world MO inhabits.

Most of the platforming in the later stages of the game revolves around avoiding instant death spikes obstacles

The level design and combat is for the most part A tier. There are some challenging puzzle sections that test your ability to launch MO between deadly traps, mixed with some simple platforming puzzles. Near the end, you find yourself in sections where you need to activate either a door or a fan to progress, and these can be a bit tedious. The game feels best when you’re moving forward. It’s a linear experience, but there is some reward for exploration, in the form of additional story and Memory upgrades which give MO more health and also unlock the good ending.

The bosses in MO mostly involve learning patterns and executing an attack when the boss becomes vulnerable

The bosses are chaotic and epic, reminding me of fights from Gunstar Heroes. The final boss in particular is very climatic. Some of the bosses can get frustrating and there are a few cheap moments where attacks aren’t well telegraphed. MO follows the boss design of waiting for a boss to become vulnerable to attack, and dodging attacks in between. It’s not my favorite but it works for most encounters.

MO Astray is an indie title that really deserves more attention. You can pick it up for $14.99 on Steam. It’s also available on Switch.

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