Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley Preview: Engaging, Enthralling, Enchanting

I wanted so much more time with Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley when the demo ended. Several tasks remained undone, new paths stayed beyond my reach, and swathes of forest left unexplored. I was surprised by how tight a grip this unaffected game had on me, and I suspect it will be one of next year’s best experiences.

My love of all things hand-drawn is not a secret, so I wasn’t shocked that the aminated aesthetic struck a chord. But still photos don’t really do it justice. The protagonist’s form seemed to ripple, even when standing still in the game. The developers have used a cycle of constantly changing frames for Snufkin’s clothing, and the slight differences in color and highlights make the typically static artform feel alive. The storybook-like art also comes from the game’s inspiration; the novels, comics, and tv series centered around Tove Jansson’s popular Moomins.

“Woo,” cries a nearby mother duck, sitting on a nest empty of chicks. My mysterious companion, an unnamed creature, is struck by the beauty and sadness of the sound. I head towards it to see what I can do to help and am tasked with finding the missing ducklings. This kind of fetch quest isn’t unusual in an adventure game like this, but I am taken by the game’s unique, pensive tone. It’s something that pops up over and over again, even in mundane moments like walking through a bush. My friend comments, when I emerge from the foliage, that I am somehow both the same and different.

The philosophical tenure of this conversation paired with practical design, as walking through any quivering bush in the landscape nets me inspiration — experience points that fill a bar on the top left with a harmonica next to it. I’m currently at level two, according to the bar, but I’m growing more proficient as I go. My meter also fills when I play my instrument for a nearby duckling. A star with the number 1 pops up next to the baby bird, letting me know that I have enough inspiration to convince it to follow me back to the nest. Dropping the duckling off with its mother earns me more inspiration, and I can’t help thinking that at least one thing in the demo will be far beyond my skills to charm.

My suspicions are vindicated when I wake a sleeping monster and see I’ll need to get to level 4 before it will allow me to ride it to the next section. But there’s plenty to keep me busy in the demo’s boundaries. I spot a sooty creature in the trees running around clutching a duckling in its claws. The upsetting monster is fittingly called Stinky, and will only give up its prize if I can trade it for something else. While looking for a trinket to exchange for the baby, I stumble across a hungry squirrel that needs 5 pinecones, a bug catcher that wants to save a firefly, and a lonely figure stuck up a tree. It’s around this point in the preview that I realize Snufkin is going to be hard to put down.

The quests are intricately and cleverly wound up in one another, with the smaller ones often giving me what I need to progress in the larger tasks. I also uncover several other important narrative points unrelated to my driving goal that takes me in a new direction. The wilderness, it seems, is under attack by a group of police-like characters who want to impose their own brand of order on nature, regardless of the damage that causes.

Taking on this organization changes up the gameplay a bit, as I’m thrown into an Ocarina of Time-like sneaking sequence. The view shifts to top down, and I have to find my way past the guards’ line of sight to grab three rule signs. Regulatory posts in hand, I head deeper into the patrol’s artificial domain where I find a fire to burn them. Hilariously, the guards don’t seem to know why they are there once there are no rules, and the once-manufactured space instantly transforms back into forest.

That opens up more roads to follow, characters to help, and puzzles to solve. I also spy a flute on the top of an out-of-reach cliff, but that’s not part of today’s adventure. I’m able to safely reunite the entire duck family, which inspires my nameless friend to pick a very cute moniker. Unfortunately, the screen goes black after this, and I’m not able to wrap up some of the loose threads I left behind. I plan to leave nothing undone when Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley comes out.

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