For those unfamiliar with the term “game jam”, let’s take a moment to explain. Far detached from the fruit spreadables you slather on your morning toast, game jams are timed events in which creators from around the world convene to create their own working game prototypes, to test out new ideas. It’s an intense creative process, with their resulting work voted upon by the larger gaming community. One of the most notable jams in operation is Ludum Dare, a twenty-four hour event in which entrants must build games associated with a chosen theme.
While plenty of winners and runners-up fade into obscurity, some go on to form the base of memorable video games, such as Mike Bithell’s acclaimed platformer, Thomas Was Alone. However, between the original prototype and the finished product, the games that make it go through a fuller development cycle, flesh it out until the fledgling demo grows into a more substantive package.
The Sun and Moon has undergone that same process since its creator, Daniel Linssen, bagged first place during Ludum Dare 29, first arriving on PC in 2014 and now out on PS4 and PS Vita. For that particular game jam the chosen theme was “beneath the surface”, which Linssen firmly adhered to. Much like Thomas Was Alone, The Sun and Moon starts as a rudimentary 2D platformer, but instead of a small rectangle, players take control of tiny ball as it hops between steps, collecting orbs along the way. The similarity between these two games quickly comes to an end when Linssen’s unique platforming mechanic comes into play.
By holding a single button, the ball can phase through solid surfaces, whether it be a wall, floor, or platform. The speed at which you burrow underground and surface depends on your momentum as you trigger the phase shift. For example, jump from a particularly high ledge and your avatar will plummet rapidly if you choose to phase upon hitting the bottom. The real challenge comes from gauging the exact trajectory of the ball as it phases in and out of terrain, sometimes in one continuous arc.
There are 150 levels to beat in total, each one sporting its own unique layout. Naturally, as you progress from one cluster of stages to the next, more advanced elements begin to filter in. Instead of collecting orbs and making your way towards a wormhole, you’ll need to avoid all kinds of projectiles, spikes, and floating enemies.
To make things just that little more taxing, each level has three completion times for players to try and surpass. Labelling these as brutal is an understatement, and after several hours of dipping in and out, I’d only managed to scrape together a handful of low tier medals. In order to achieve anything higher requires lightning reflexes and bucket loads of patience. Needless to say, even the hardiest of platforming fans will meet their match when sat down to play The Sun and Moon.
Loving or hating the game hinges entirely on this ability to dig and flow in a dance of mind-bending motion. Find it unappealing or unintuitive and you might as well walk away after clearing those first few levels: there’s literally nothing else the game has to offer you. If you’re even slightly interested in The Sun and Moon, it’s well worth sampling the flash demo below. For those who do sense some kind of connection, moving onto bigger, more challenging levels is the game’s single driving force. Then again, even if you enjoy its platforming, the ramping difficulty level may bar you from entry to later content due to a lack of skill.
With The Sun and Moon, Daniel Linssen has seemingly placed all eggs in one basket. That’s fine for a niche convent of platforming die-hards, but for many the masses, the appeal simply isn’t there. Factor in the basic – sometimes garish – level backdrops, so-so soundtrack, and frustrating baseline difficulty, and that niche group becomes even smaller.
To brand the game as a failure would be unjust, however. Although far from being essential, it’s easy to see why The Sun and Moon cleaned up at Ludum Dare 29. It’s just a shame that the end result lacks the substance and feature set needed to embrace a larger, more diverse audience.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4