brentoland's The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories (PC) review

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A Charming Puzzle Platformer from Swery, With a Poignant and Well Told Story

Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro has made a name for himself over the last few years thanks in part to the cult classic survival horror game Deadly Premonition, a game known for its bizarre story, endearing characters, and janky gameplay. After the unfortunate cancellation of D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die and the rough Kickstarter for The Good Life, Swery is back with The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories.

At a glance, the game is reminiscent of PlayDead's puzzle platformers, Limbo and Inside, with a noticeable "Swery" twist. The game opens with a message saying: "This game is made with the belief that nobody if wrong for being what they are". Then when it starts, J.J. and her girlfriend (or maybe just a really good friend? We don't really know) Emily taking a weekend trip to a small island off the coast of Maine. While on the trip, J.J. awakes to find that Emily is missing and a terrible storm has started. After some light platforming J.J. finds herself in a field of flowers, gets struck by lightning, and then a moose doctor comes out and starts speaking backwards and forwards (like in Twin Peaks). J.J. awakens to the ability to regenerate her limbs at will and the games main theme plays (it's really good by the way).

mAjOR hEMorRHage
mAjOR hEMorRHage

This is the main puzzle mechanic of The Missing. Too heavy to go across a platform? Just dismember yourself so you don't weigh as much. Need something to throw? Hey, that arm works! And this isn't exclusive for dismemberment either, dark room or some vines? Setting yourself on fire can fix that. Need a new perspective on the world? Good news, breaking your neck flips the world on its head (get it?). Sometimes you'll platform as just a head, or you'll need to navigate around on fire to get to your goal. It's a novel mechanic that used fairly well.

While I compared them to The Missing earlier, I wish I'd be able to say that the game plays as well as Limbo or Inside. But it doesn't. The game doesn't lay out all of the mechanics clearly, so you can sometimes feel yourself lost in what to do. Sometimes the platforming doesn't feel as tight as you want it and "death" animations can take a tad too long and start to become tedious. The puzzle design can also be lackluster, there's a puzzle around halfway in the game on an abandoned train that is so vague as to what you have to do that I was stuck on it for 20 minutes (turns out there's something I wasn't paying attention to in the background but the game doesn't make it clear).

Sometimes the games art direction really stands out
Sometimes the games art direction really stands out

Performance can also be an issue, I played this on the Switch but I've seen other console build run into the occasional choppy framerate and the game just glitching out at some points. In particular a climatic scene towards the end is slightly ruined thanks to the uneven framerate. But when this games art direction is on display, there are moments where it really shines. Environments range from being fairly bland affairs to more striking vistas and worn out buildings. The character designs are also great, J.J.'s in particular really stands out from an aesthetic perspective and a gameplay one since she's always easily visible on screen.

Every time J.J. is harmed you can hear her shrieks and the sound of bones breaking thanks to the games well put together audio design. While that is a highlight, most people are more mixed on the games voice acting. I'm not gonna come out and say that it's bad, on the contrary I think it's quite good in a way. Just like in Deadly Premonition, or even Silent Hill 2, the voice acting is a brand of slightly stilted and slightly awkward that, for me, came off as more endearing than it did unprofessional. It probably also helped that a good amount of the games dialogue is in the backwards/forwards speak even if some of it isn't perfect (Emily's VA sounded like she needed more time to get used to it, at least there's subtitles!).

F... K... in my text messages
F... K... in my text messages

All that I've described so far makes the game sound like a janky and fairly average indie game which would be true if the story wasn't as poignant and well told as it is. A majority of the games story in the beginning is told trough text messages. J.J. got a new phone and it erased all of her data so she is slowly getting everything back. Through the story she gets her old messages from Emily, her Mom, and F.K. her stuffed animal. Other text messages from her school friends and professor are acquired by collecting donuts which also unlock concept art and "cheats" (they're really only costume changes). The messages with her friends are insightful to her life at school and how she is seen by her classmates. Her mom is a little nosy and overbearing, Emily is sweet and a good friend, F.K. is... trying. As you get later in the game there's more spoken dialogue, phone calls, and story events that will unravel the greater plot.

Now if I were to describe what makes The Missing so compelling and well put together, I'd have to sit here and spoil the whole game. I don't want to rob anyone of what the game has to offer. So I'll say this: The Missing tackles subjects with respect and tact that isn't seen in most games.The story takes some darker turns, by the end I was reading text messages that disturbed the hell out of me because of how "real" they felt. The Missing cements Swery as more than just "that guy that makes to games that are so weird!", it shows that he has the writing and directing chops to make something really special. This is a game that if you consider yourself a fan of more abstract games that are well written, you don't want to miss it. Swery's next ride can't come soon enough.

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