It’s like Dark Souls but…
but no but really it kind of is.
Okay, so it’s more like if one of the Gameboy Advance Castlevania’s had a handful of Dark Souls elements sprinkled on top. This is a Vania riff first and foremost, but the Souls influences are obvious. And it’s pretty fun!
Momodora: Rememberings of the Forgotten Cold Sky or whatever it’s called (<inhale> MOMODORA: REVERIE UNDER THE MOONLIGHT<exhale>) is a Good Game. This is the fourth game in a series of 2D adventures that I hadn’t even heard of until now, and this one makes me want to see what the rest of the series is all about.
You start with a dodge roll, in which you’re invincible. You’re told that healing at certain safe areas in the map will recover your health and mark a checkpoint, as well as refill your limited supply of healing Estus Fla…”Bellflowers.” A title card pops up, revealing the name of the mysterious area you’re in, right before you run into a lonely NPC who spouts short bits of dialogue. Momodora IV, we know where your influences lie.
Momodora IV doesn’t put its best foot forward, as it launches you straight into some forgettable enemy encounters in a forest with little atmosphere to speak of. The first 30 minutes didn’t do a ton for me, but the character animations and general feel let me know that there was some care behind this, so I forged ahead without having a clue what to expect. Pretty soon, though, you enter a spooky castle town and the real game begins…for a while.
After reaching the game’s second major area, Karst City, I was smitten. I was rolling and dodging cool enemy attacks, fighting bosses, meeting NPCs, shopping for upgrades, unlocking shortcuts back to my safe zones. It was great, and it seemed like it had nowhere to go but up. I fought a creepy monster thing in a sewer to upgrade my ranged attack. I sliced up a giant blue witch who got very angry and I rolled away right before she squished me. I walked through a jail and tried to rescue a prisoner, but saving him wasn’t as easy as I expected.
There’s tons of cool little details and a lot of personality tucked into Momodora, and I couldn’t wait to see if this was the next Castle in the Darkness, instant classic, Metroidvania thing. Turns out, the game just decides to…not really go anywhere at all after the first handful of areas.
After the midpoint, enemy variety rarely changes, nor do your skills in the button-mashy combat. The most useful ability I found was about 3/4 of the way through, and it added a fire modifier to my attacks. Meaning…I did slightly more damage on each hit. The hits, by the way, that I was landing on the same wizard and skeleton enemies that I had been fighting for a while. I would have loved to explore some new places without fighting the same enemies with the same attacks again and again. There are scenes with some fantastic backdrops, and all of the art is so pretty, I just wish I could have looked at more of it without seeing four copy-pasted bad guys obscuring the view. The whole game suffers from some drastic pacing issues that could have easily been smoothed out with a handful of new enemies, and fewer of the ones that are already there.
And then you fight a few more samey bosses and kill another dozen or so of the same skeleton, and the game ends. You can go back and rummage through the rest of the map to unlock some health upgrades and a couple of stat modifying items, but really, that’s about it. From the second hour I had really, really high hopes for the game, and by hour 4 I was ready for it to just be over. None of this is to say I didn’t enjoy my time with Momodora, I don’t regret playing any of it, but it just left me with a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth. Too many of the environments felt samey to me in the way Bloodborne’s did, except instead of everything being ugly streets, everything’s just an old room with a witch in it. It also suffers from the Dark Souls 2 problem of leading you to a cool area, only to dead-end you and make you go somewhere else.
I recommend you play Momodora: Recycling Over A Moonless Morning if you’re dying for some new Castlevania and have time to kill before Dark Souls 3 comes out. There are some excellent ideas here, but a lot of it just feels like retreads of better games.
My second and third hour of Momodora are two of the best hours I’ve spent with a game in 2016. Even the latter parts have some great moments, like deciding whether or not to spare a fallen comrade, or watching the cute animations when you transform into an animal. But the slog of the last hour, searching through message boards to figure out what items I even needed to finish the game, and then going back through the entire map to get them just made me never want to touch this thing again. Backtracking to areas because I missed a glowing item on the floor isn’t a puzzle, it’s a chore. Maybe if I wasn’t in a hurry to get through I would lavished in that world a little longer, but even then, there just isn’t enough there to warrant that kind of play.
Momodora is definitely worth playing, and its short four-hour run-time is inoffensive. But if you’re looking for the next 2D masterpiece, you’re gonna have to head back to Castle in the Darkness, 2, or Mibibli’s Quest. Like, go play any of those right now, they’re some of the best games I’ve played this decade. Or go play Momodora. I don’t care anymore.
Please go play those awesome games, okay?
-And when you search “Reverie” to see what that means, don’t feel bad, this game is the third link on Google as of its release (under two links to a mattress website). So yeah, nobody else has ever heard that word before either.-
-When you Tweet at me to let me know that you use the word reverie at least three times a day, I want you to know you’re big and strong and smart and your parents love you very much.-