It’s not often when a game is able to stretch a single idea into a whole game while making it feel satisfying.
The Sun and Moon is such a game as it asks you to learn how to use a simple mechanic like a tool, constantly learning new methods of use throughout the game. It surrounds this idea with impressive design to create this powerfully small space-themed puzzle platformer that will be sure to awe.
Designed by the one-man team of Daniel Linssen and winner of the Ludem Dare 29, The Sun and Moon revolves (pun intended) around an immediately understood structure. The player, represented by an adorably tiny orb, must collect a number of even smaller orbs in their journey to reach a level’s end point, marked by a hovering worm-hole. The catch is that the levels are designed so that progress is impossible my normal locomotive platforming. Instead, the player must make use of the game’s main mechanic: phasing through platforms. What would normally be solid structures instead become passable pathways for you to manoeuvre once activated. While momentum is saved as you phase through ground, gravity is reversed. The result is a sensation similar to swimming as you dive through and propel out of objects, often feeling Portal-esque as you fly from platform to platform.
On a surface level there isn’t much more to The Sun and Moon than this. The game starts you off in tutorial-level stages with a gaudy green color scheme and a very simple chip tune song looping in the background. As you progress through the game’s stages however, its design begins to reveal itself in brilliant ways. Where some levels will intuitively teach you a new way to use the game’s mechanic, others will force you to think outside the box and discover the solution yourself. This effectively forces you to learn how to play the game without ever showing a single line of text or button prompt. Boasting over 150 levels to learn from, the game uses progression as a key piece of its overall package. As you reach further in the game the music will add new layers of instrumentation as if it is evolving with you, eventually turning from annoyingly repetitive to excitingly complex. The change is slow and unnoticeable at first, but as you progress deeper into the game it begins to feel as if the game is aware of your skill evolving through time. It also shows the effort that went into how the game presents itself in tone, proving a commitment to smaller more trivial aspects that most games would gloss over.
That commitment continues into its evolving design. While the core mechanic doesn’t change, the game often introduces new challenges for you to overcome. What begins as a trek through stages littered with a few easily avoided spinning stars and awkwardly placed platforms eventually becomes a headache-inducing logical challenge that forces you to think on your feet in response to disappearing floors, moving death traps and more. The Sun and Moon is at its most impressive when you are placed in an environment that changes your previous notions of the game’s rules requiring you to rethink how to play the game. Multiple times the game offers you situations that feel almost impossible, until reaching that “ah-ha!” moment where everything just clicks. It’s these moments that every puzzle game strives for, and The Sun and Moon expertly crafts many of them.
While it proves itself to be mostly entertaining, this is not a game you will play on the edge of your seat. Thanks to its minimalistic design (both in its art and form) The Sun and Moon is meant to be played passively. Since most of the game requires logical processing and precise movement, it’s easily done while listening to a podcast or favorite television show in the background. The game feels more like the fine wine of your night to be paired with a succulent steak, rather than the entire meal itself. This isn’t detrimental to your enjoyment of the game, but without something to occupy other parts of your brain it quickly becomes monotonous.
It may take you a few hours to beat everything The Sun and Moon has to offer, yet it will ultimately feel like a very quick experience. Although it presents a grading system based on how quickly you finish levels represented by a Sun, Full Moon, and Crescent Moon, there isn’t much incentive to return to anything unless you’re chasing trophies. Ultimately the game knows this as it focuses on presenting you with as much enjoyment in its design as possible, making your first play through as good as it can be. The simplicity may cause a lack of engagement over time, but it feels inherent to its identity.
The Sun and Moon is, for the most part, a game that requires you to actively think creatively. Its commitment to progression cannot be overstated, somehow creating a puzzle experience that empowers you. Yet there are occasions where it feels empty, void of anything more meaningful than a Sudoku puzzle. The game knows this however, leaning on its strengths rather than amplifying its weaknesses. It’s not a game meant to be played in a single playthrough, but in small chunks spread throughout. It may require a lot of real estate on the PS4 that will suck up your television for a mostly miniature-looking game, but it cannot be dismissed. Its design is ingeniously clever, and somehow is able to spread a single mechanic for an entire game’s duration. For what it’s worth, this is a game that will please anyone with a passing fancy for puzzle games, and will impress you if given the right situation.