by Murray Lewis, reviewed on
O’er Mithgarth Hugin and Munin both
Each day set forth to fly;
For Hugin I fear lest he come not home,
But for Munin my care is more.
- The Poetic Edda: Grímnismál
Munin is a puzzle-platformer from Portuguese developer Gojira, and features a novel angle on Norse mythology. You play as Munin, one of Odin’s messenger ravens, who has been transformed into a mortal by everyone’s favourite mischief-maker, Loki. This sets you off on a quest through the nine worlds of Yggdrasil to reclaim your feathers and return to Asgard (where, presumably, Loki will get a telling-off from Odin).
It’s all very Viking, and the mythological theme permeates every aspect of the game quite well. Those of you a little more familiar with Nordic myth might wonder where Hugin, Odin’s other raven, fits into this story. Just like in Grímnismál, Gojira were obviously so concerned about Munin that poor Hunin barely got a look-in; he is mentioned exactly once during a screen of text at the start of the game, and then never again.
Then again, Munin’s story isn’t exactly fleshed out here, either. For a game that claims players will ‘experience the exciting world of Norse mythology,’ I was expecting a little more than a handful of screens of un-narrated text in a difficult-to-read rune font. Perhaps expecting a satisfying plot from a puzzle game is too much – but does the gameplay manage to turn things around?
Gameplay in Munin revolves around one simple mechanic – each level is divided up into a grid, and each section of the grid can be rotated by clicking on it (provided you aren’t standing in it at the time). By doing this, you open up new pathways, place feathers within reach, and release deadly traps. Sometimes sections are linked together, whereby turning one also rotates the other. While this adds a layer of complexity to the later puzzles in each world, it is let down a little by the UI, which makes it very hard to see which sections are tied together.
Puzzle elements like boulders and lava are driven by a convincing physics engine, and often form parts of quite clever puzzles requiring you to do more than just keep out of the way. Keep out of the way you must, though – hazards in the game will kill you instantly, forcing you to start the level over again. If you spend ten minutes working out how to reach that last, tricky feather, and then accidentally drop a boulder on yourself... tough luck. Munin takes no prisoners.
The controls are very simple – using keyboard to move, and the mouse to manipulate the level – and this allows you to get stuck into the puzzles straight away. The downside is that there is zero progression in terms of character abilities, but variety is more than provided for with a new mechanic introduced in every world. This constant switching-up of the formula helps to make each area of the game feel uniquely memorable.
The glaring issue is the sheer, brain-melting difficulty of some of the puzzles. It increases gradually from the start of a world, where you are gently introduced to any new mechanics, to the end, where you are truly tested. In theory this should work, but Munin gleefully drops players into puzzles that will leave you reeling, and offers no get-out clause, and no helpful hints; just the occasional boulder to crush your progress. If we’re going to talk mythologically, perhaps this game should be called Sisyphus?
Many players find a high level of difficulty to be rewarding, but there is no reason for a game listed under ‘casual’ on Steam not to have some form of concession to those of us with a painfully average IQ. Common mechanics in other games involve the ability to finish a level with only some of the objectives met, letting frustrated players move on, while allowing completionists to return later for the coveted ‘100%.’ Even something as brusque as a ‘skip level’ button would have made the game a much more pleasant experience. As it is, coming up against an arduous puzzle means the game effectively stonewalls any further progress.
Visually, Munin is not an unattractive game. It has a peculiar, painterly style with a brushed texture constantly whirling around that gives the appearance of hand-painted animation, although the constant visual flickering may cause issues for some players. In terms of colours, though, there’s plenty to like here, and each location has a distinctive style. There are also some great background elements that really add to the feeling of being in a wider world, such as an enormous stone giant thundering by.
The audio is fairly spartan by comparison, but does the job. The soundtrack is nothing to write home about, and certainly nothing that will get stuck in your head, but it does fit the general atmosphere and I never found it annoying.
As a game about Norse mythology, Munin misses the mark considerably. There is an almost endless amount of lore available to work with, so there’s really no excuse for the featherweight plot here – particularly where it would have really helped to keep the player invested in what they are doing. As it is, the only reason to play on is if you are enjoying the gameplay.
As a puzzle game, it has a lot of potential, but the level of difficulty and lack of any sort of help means I can only recommend it to fans of truly devious spacial puzzling; anyone after a lighter brain-teaser should look elsewhere.
Interesting core mechanic. Attractive visual style. Plenty of content.
Ruthless difficulty. Plot is a missed opportunity.