There’s a bit of a meme in the indie video game industry when it comes to single-creator titles – one side of the meme says that the title in question deserves nothing more than the highest praise simply out of respect and congratulations on the achievement. The other extreme has reacted to the first, taking things in a cynical direction regardless of the quality of the game itself. Reality, like most things, is somewhere in between. Yes, a single-creator title is an impressive feat that should be applauded (and often found in marketing collateral), but the game still needs to be measured to the same standards as other titles in the industry.
I am happy to say that Mundaun is a stellar example of what solo creator titles can be. It’s an elegant indie game with a singular vision that drives its unique visuals, folklore-centric story, and satisfying scares, delivering an unforgettable experience. In such games, the responsibility rests with the creator, for better or for worse. So while Mundaun You can have the occasional noise when it comes to motion controls and you don’t always connect the dots for things like mapping your player’s place in space, style, story, and scares more than make up for any shortcomings. And with the title now available on almost every gaming platform, I highly recommend everyone to give it a try asap. My full review follows below.
Here is the official synopsis of Mundaun:
A carefully hand-drawn horror adventure by Hidden Fields, a solo studio founded by Swiss programmer and illustrator Michel Ziegler, launching on PC and consoles on March 16, 2021. Mundaun is a tale set in the darker side of the Swiss Alps, with a story rooted in the chilling folklore of the region. Players follow a young man who travels to the city of Mundaun to investigate the mysterious circumstances behind his grandfather’s death. Along the way, he discovers that something old and evil stalks the eccentric residents of the city. Players will solve a series of handcrafted puzzles to uncover the secrets of Mundaun, and you should also avoid activating the game’s unique fear system, a “cause and effect” gameplay feature that affects players if they get scared.
Before I start my review, check out the new release trailer to get a better idea of the style and tone of the art:
The best place to start a conversation about Mundaun not even with the story itself, a story steeped in unfamiliar folklore (unless you grew up in the shadow of the Swiss Alps or in a home where such stories were common). Are the images of Mundaun that should catch him long before history sinks its devilish hooks into his skin. Ziegler’s hand-drawn graphite art permeates every frame in this set by design. There is both a simplistic appeal and a monochromatic harshness to this artistic medium, one that applies quite well whether you’re wandering the bucolic Alpine countryside, battling the harsh climate of the heights, or running for your life from various demonic forces. Ziegler’s art brings warmth and frigidity to Mundaun depending on the occasion, and that makes this picture book story and its well-drawn characters even more compelling.
Ziegler recently chatted with Sony’s PlayStation blog about his approach to Mundaun, including your specific art style. Here’s a glimpse of how Ziegler’s artwork went from hand-drawn 2D sketches on paper to animated 3D creations within the software and eventually the game itself:
The character designs themselves have a particular and quirky look, doing something you’ve never seen in a video game before. It’s almost as if the blocky polygons of late 1990s video games pop out of German Expressionism art gallery paintings and come to life. Because Ziegler tries to take 2D drawings and wrap them in 3D character models, the game’s heroes, villains, and monsters take on an otherworldly appearance that is strangely endearing in a very specific way. Mundaun kind of way. That slightly unbalanced design is carried over to the world and to homes as well.
From barns and cabins in the countryside, to mountain tunnels and covered bridges, to high-rise ski lifts and caverns of the underworld, Ziegler’s pencil strokes bring the very land of Mundaun to the life. So even when it takes its protagonist Curdin a while to get where he is going (be it on foot, in the charming farm truck known as Muvel, or even on a sled), it is always with the feeling of the atmosphere in a certain place . . But as in all things worth doing well, the devil of Mundaun it’s in the details. And there are many scattered throughout the game.
As Ziegler himself puts it, the chapel in Mundaun It’s one of the best places early in the game to see your hand-drawn art up close and on display. Check it out on IRL and in-game below:
To delve too deep into the story would be to reveal the experience of Mundaun. Attracted by the images, the story itself literally draws Curdin into the events of a story that has been in motion since long before he was born. Mundaun It’s both a generational and a cautionary tale, making it a perfect blend of fiction, folklore, and fairy tale, complete with poignant emotional arcs, dark humor, and rare moments of childish lightness. It’s weird that we can play games with that kind of focus, but that’s what we have here.
Don’t expect Curdin to be all John McClane against the enemies who stand in his way; you better survive thanks to ingenuity, patience and, honestly, withdrawal. If Curdin (and you, the player) get stuck somewhere along the way, be sure to check your journal and inventory to see if a new clue has been discovered. It can be mundane, or it can be very strange thanks to Ziegler’s sense of humor and popular quirks, but it will almost always be useful.
However, not all locations or puzzles will be able to be solved the first time you find them. Some mysteries will require a full game (or more) to solve. Mundaun features a solid and content loop of the local area around the title city. This, combined with Curdin’s “common man” status and pure atmospheric vibe throughout, makes this standalone game feel like a godbrother to titles like Silent Hill. So even though you may never want To revisit certain areas of the game after finding them, you may just have to do it to move on …
Watch the following behind-the-scenes videos to get an idea of the real-world structures and settings that inspired recreations within the game itself:
One of my favorite features of Mundaun In addition to everything mentioned above, the story actually has a somewhat branching narrative with real repercussions based on your choices and decisions. Many games, especially long and labyrinthine modern RPGs, give players the illusion of choosing only to end up telling whatever story the developers wanted to tell, regardless of the player’s own decisions. Mundaun It makes you sit back with your chosen actions and deal with the aftermath, no matter what. I love that. This not only increases the feeling of commitment to the material, but it encourages multiple games of play because, yes, there are multiple endings. The one they gave me was a pleasant surprise for yours. Best of all, I know exactly where to go back to change my destiny and see what else could have happened to Curdin and the city of Mundaun.
Usually, Mundaun is a surprisingly balanced and solid game from a solo creator. Sure, some of the motion controls for Curdin and various vehicles can get a bit frustrating (I played with the keyboard and mouse – the drivers can smooth this out), and the monochrome images make it hard to distinguish certain things in the environment from time to time. from time to time, but these are mere bumps in the road. Ziegler’s vision shines through from start to finish, even in the darkest places in Mundaun and in the most desperate moments for Curdin & Co. More creepy than terrifying (though a couple of shocks definitely took me by surprise), and more folk than fantasy *, this title is something special. Mundaun is one of the best indie games of 2021 and should absolutely be on your wish list, if not your library.
* I Really want Ari aster (Hereditary, Summer Solstice) to adapt this game. Immediately.
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