Whichever way you paint it, video games are art. They’re carefully constructed expressions of a developer’s singular or group vision, and their multifaceted nature takes in various different forms of what we unequivocally consider art. So they must be art.
The Mooseman is art history then, bringing the folklore, art and music of the Russian Perm tribe to life in a way that only video games would be capable of. While its actual game aspects are relatively simple, it offers an incredible insight into a system of myths and beliefs that the wider world would likely never have seen.
You are The Mooseman, a mythological being that’s part of the Perm animal style, and whose journey through the three layers of the universe you control. It’s more of a journey than a challenge that’s for sure, and while there is some very light puzzling, which mostly involves moving between the physical and the spirit plane, it’s not likely to hold anyone up for too long. Barring some welcome surprises towards the end of the game you’ll mostly wander slowly from left to right, switching between spirit planes to move past obstacles, while the game spills further details on what it all means.
The so-called puzzles are generally little more than moving a spirit creature across a gap or having them follow you to create a new route to a higher level. There are a few larger, almost boss-like creatures and the solution to getting past them is a little more complicated, but it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself stuck for too long.
You’ll want to keep moving though, thanks to the distinctive and seemingly hand-drawn visuals, whose rough pencil lines and limited palette give a real sense of viewing a folk story-inspired picture book. At times the camera pans out, often combined with a swell of choral chants, and despite its minimalistic style The Mooseman is capable of evoking a real sense of awe.
The sound design is also immensely appealing, from the story sections read in the Komi-Permian dialect to the use of authentic Komi folk music. It all feels unique, especially in the video game space, and in some ways quite special to be privy to. There can be one or two moments where a refrain is too short and repeats a little too often, but with its forward momentum you’ll likely be past it before they wear thin.
It’s a shame that despite its obvious and compelling use of the Perm Tribe’s folklore and history, it’s not always well translated, and at points you’ll have to question some details of the tale. You have to imagine that it’s due to having been translated from Russian into the Komi-Permian language and then across to English, but whichever direction the translations had to travel, it can frame the action in an obtuse web of words.
It does give the entire experience a unique flavour that still feels very true to its source, and it’s worth persevering with, especially when its short length is perfect for at least a couple of playthroughs, and you can return to the myths at any point once you’ve discovered them. That short length and its unusual premise make its budget pricing ideal and it’s easy to recommend for those looking for something a bit different.
There’s also an array of artefacts to collect which are hidden throughout the game, which is remarkable given its fairly linear nature. Each one appears in your collection with a full description of what its significance is to the Perm Krai animal style, or in fact the similar Scythian-Siberian style, and for anyone wanting to delve into the Perm culture it’s a great primer before heading off to find out more. The game’s lasting legacy is that there’s every chance you’ll want to.
The Mooseman is a unique, significant, and often beautiful indie game that proves there’s room in the video game space for all kinds of different experiences. There’s every chance you won’t have heard of the Perm region of Russia or its pagan mythology, but this is a game that places you within its traditions and iconography with sympathetic artistry.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch – also available for PC, PS4 and Xbox One