Indie Quickie: The Sun and Moon

It takes a lot longer to fully review a game than it does to get a good sense of what a game is. Even with a full-time staff of writers it would be impossible to fully review the thousands of games that are released every year. Indie Quickie is our way to offer snap impressions of the countless indie titles small teams and one-man game studios are releasing literally every single day, and to help guide players to worthwhile games they may not have heard about before.

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What is it? A minimalistic, one-mechanic platformer that just so happened to win top honors at Ludum Dare 29.

Who made it and where can you get it? Daniel Linssen won Ludum Dare as the game’s creator. Digerati Distribution helped bring the final release version of the game to Steam as publisher. Download it now during launch week at a 10% discount before the price goes back up to $9.99 on November 21st.

How much did we play? Just over an hour, completing three of nine systems and 62 of the 150-plus total levels. My speed run times haven’t been so hot yet, though, as I’ve only earned 17 crescent moon, 5 full moon, and 1 sun medals.

Any technical concerns, hardware requirements or other details you should know about? Nope. This game’s lo-fi all the way, so if you have a decent PC no more than half a decade old, you should be safe running it without issue.

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Why should you play it?

    Simple, elegant game design is what you get with The Sun and Moon. The gist of the game is to guide a little ball of some unknown origin through maps of carefully laid out platforms and obstacles in order to collect the three orbs that are required to open the wormhole exit portal to complete each stage. Using just a single mechanic–the ability to dive into solid surfaces at the push of a button–the game quickly evolves from a typical side-to-side platformer into a uniquely challenging blend of nimble reflexes and clever problem solving.

    In its regular form, the little orb dude moves, jumps and lands on solid objects like any other game of running and jumping and collecting. However, after jumping, holding down the appropriate button/key allows the budding sun to burrow directly into any surface it normally would land on, at which point the gravitational pull immediately flips, hurtling the ball of solar energy upward until it breaches the confines of the block of vectorized terrain it initially dove into. Although gravity flips on its head, the momentum going into a dive remains constant, so the trick is figuring out ways to build up momentum before jumping into a surface that will generate the correct amount of force for the task at hand, whether that might be to jump from a high platform to create a powerful slingshot effect on the way back up to reach higher ground, or make compact, cautious jumps to narrowly dip underneath a row of spikes without building enough speed to fling out the other side into another row of spikes.

    The game isn’t too tough at first, but before long the levels begin to turn quite devious. Not in a cheap way that causes a lot of frustration to build as you die and retry at an increasingly high rate, but rather in a way that rewards you with great satisfaction as you slowly begin to grasp how to take advantage of the sudden changes in momentum and master the skill-based movement. As you begin to pull off changes in direction in one smooth, flowing motion, without having to stop and think about how to do it, there is a finesse to the game that clicks into a groove and feels so effortless, even as the difficulty mounts. To me the game feels like a blend of the reflexive skill platforming of a Super Meat Boy or N and the graceful movement physics of a game like PixelJunk Eden. That’s some fine company to be in for such a humble platformer.

    Just completing stages isn’t even the hard part. Doing so within a respectable amount of time, however, is. While there is no time limit forcing you to play quickly, speed run precision is rewarded with medals. Each level has a tiered series of three time trial markers to beat. Putting it into Olympic terms, crescent moons are the bronze medals, full moons are the silver medals, and suns are the prestigious gold medals for beating the record time. In addition to the element of replay reward, the medal system actually shows how well designed the levels are. Beyond simply nailing the perfect timing and locomotion to glide through a stage unimpeded, there almost always seem to be multiple ways to get from point A to point B, such as a safer route you can take just to get by regardless of how long it takes, or a riskier line that will be more difficult, but will help shave precious seconds off the clock. Even the game’s branching level select map allows for some freedom to play through stages in an unrestricted order.

Parting Thoughts: As the big studios continue to strive for cutting edge innovation and photorealism, modern gamers tend to get caught up in grand expectations for games to constantly grow more complex and push the boundaries between reality and virtual reality. Then games like The Sun and Moon come along to remind us that sometimes the most simplistic, low-tech design, when honed to perfection, makes for the most fun and addictive gameplay experiences. No wonder this game won a design competition.

Disclosure: A free Steam key for The Sun and Moon was provided to VGBlogger.com by the game’s publisher.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!