MO: Astray is a pixel art, side-scrolling, action-platformer. Lead MO through mind-bending puzzles using special abilities. Bizarre enemies, threatening traps and ingenious level designs await.
- A meticulous pixel art style accompanied by super-smooth animation, effects and immersive soundtrack.
- Utilise sticking, ramming, parasitic takeover and memory recall to navigate the otherworldly, sci-fi environment.
- Unlock the story: Collect key materials to delve deeper into the world and unravel the mystery...
Requires a 64-bit processor and operating system
OS: Windows 7
Processor: Intel Core i5-4210H CPU @ 2.9GHz
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 520
DirectX: Version 9.0c
Storage: 10 GB available space
~ 10 hours
Oct 25, 2019
Without giving away too many of my impressions in an introduction, MO: Astray is the remarkable product of a student project! According to the official website, the development team dubbed themselves Archplay in 2017, and created a graduation project called “MØ-Macrophages-.” Taiwanese developer Rayark came alongside Archplay as this graduation project would evolve over two years before it was re-titled MO: Astray. As the site describes, the trials that MO faces are analogous to those Archplay faced during the development cycle.
The primary content concern in MO: Astray is that of violence. This game portrays scenes of humans transforming into feral, zombie-like creatures. Many of them, human and transformed alike, can be found maimed and driven on spikes. Along with humanoid alien creatures, they can also die via the activation of traps and automated guns. In one (very cool) sequence, a mecha mows down dozens of humanoids with gatling guns. Lastly, MO eventually gains the ability to explode heads while leaping from them; while players can avoid this throughout most of the game, one “boss” fight requires some mass murder to advance.
Opening in a Limbo-like environment, the blob that the narrator later dubs “MO” slowly skips across the plane, absorbing the fruit energy from trees that bestow the organism’s physical features like eyes and a mouth. Soon after, the background cracks and shatters, bringing MO from purgatory into the reality of what appears to be a laboratory populated with hazards galore. A high-pitched internal voice goads MO onward.
MO’s default ability to leap short distances and stick to walls and ceilings are central platforming features. As MO makes progress through the game, it will acquire some incremental upgrades used for plot discovery and traversal. The platforming talents are limited to a jump, a double jump, and a turbo jump that doubles as both a rapid advance as well as an attack.
MO will also acquire the skill to leap on the heads of humanoids and control them so they can press buttons and pull levers to solve puzzles. Mean-spirited players can choose to kill by launching themselves from those heads, detonating them in the process. I say mean-spirited because exploding heads is avoidable, with the exception of a certain climactic trap room.
MO’s head-sticking ability allows it to read the thoughts of those it perches upon like a mask. This mounting is one of the primary ways players will learn the lore that MO: Astray has to offer. However, because the game offers so much of its plot in segments, I struggled with making sense of it. A comic book with impressive artwork punctuates each of the game’s six chapters, but it concerns prequel story bits, the contents of which make me scratch my head even more. The best story bits come in the form of flashbacks from the rare glowing forehead. During these sequences, translucent illusions of people—and later, extraterrestrials—reenact the last time they were in that room, often depicting disastrous events. Among all the methods of conveying story in this game, I prefer these flashbacks.
As a platformer with puzzle rooms, MO: Astray offers rewarding experiences for conquering the challenges it poses. At first, the game begins with simple exercises such as leaping and sticking between insta-kill spikes and hanging from the ceiling while making angled jumps toward surfaces suspended over…more spikes. As the environments in MO: Astray transition from a science ship to a vegetated planet as players progress through the game, the insta-kill obstacles multiplay alongside the presence of hostiles who hate “Sky-People,” but inexplicably want MO dead, too. I appreciate Archplay’s dedication to providing different arenas besides a sterile laboratory; though I often dread aqueducts, MO surprisingly moves faster underwater, and is likewise aerodynamic when the game necessitates flight as a balloon and when—well, I do not want to say too much! These gameplay elements considered, MO: Astray is harder than Celeste, but easier than Oddworld in terms of difficulty.
I am always a fan of hand-drawn artwork, but not necessarily pixel art, because too many developers conflate the latter with retrograde effects that are often poorer than the capabilities of the old hardware that inspired their games. In other words, I tend to associate “pixel art” with poor, lazy rendering; that is not the case with MO: Astray, particularly because the size of the sprites mitigates the distortion of detail that usually accompanies pixel art. Archplay also implements HD textures for special occasions requiring large-scale encounters, making for a satisfying combination of artistry.
The most challenging part of MO: Astray is writing about it without giving away its revelations. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game so much that I lament that there are so few meticulously-balanced, industriously-rendered adventure platformer games. Also important to me is its favorable price-to-entertainment ratio, delivering ten fine hours of gameplay for fifteen dollars. I highly recommend MO: Astray as a 2019 holiday sleeper-hit.
Review copy generously provided by Rayark Inc.
+ Fantastic finale
+ Great room/puzzle design
+ Appropriate difficulty curve
- Sequel (or DLC) bait?
- Several unclear story elements
- Animation not as smooth as expected