When we think about videogames’ development cycle, we usually imagine months of work, dozens of people involved and big budgets. That’s not entirely false. Making a videogame takes time and resources. It needs to be designed, implemented, polished and tested in quite a number of iterations. Still, what makes the core of a game, is just a spark. A simple idea or mechanic that will make the game what it is. The rest of the development cycle is just trying to take that spark and starting a fire as big as possible.
That core idea, that spark, if it’s simple enough, can be made real quickly even if just in a rough state. This simple concept is the reason Game Jams exist. And The Sun and Moon is the product of one of those Game Jams. Winner of Ludum Dare 29, the first version of The Sun and Moon was made in just 48 hours following the theme of the dare “beneath the surface”. Months after that victory, it approached on Steam in a bigger and better way than when it won the Ludum Dare. Daniel Linssen enkindled the spark and gave us the fire that resulted.
The Sun and Moon is a puzzle-platformer game with a minimalistic art style and a Super Meat Boy-esque feeling. Its premise is nothing new: you control a little pixelated black ball and you have to navigate the stages, collect 3 globes and then jump into the wormhole. All of this while trying to beat the best time. Just a variation of the “get from A to B” time attack platformer genre. But it’s his core mechanic that makes it stand out.
Jumping is not the only way to go around the stages in The Sun and Moon. More often than not, it will not be even remotely sufficient. Then how do we reach those sweet sweet globes? Why, diving into the ground of course.
Holding the action button, we can fling ourselves into solid objects. We’ll not be able to move freely around as always though. After the player goes into the ground, the little black ball conserves its momentum but, at the same time, gravity is reversed. That means the moment we go beneath the surface, we start gradually accelerating upwards, until we are thrown out in the air and regular gravity takes over again. This simple mechanic, makes level design a critical aspect of this game. Luckily, this aspect is very well executed.
Like in any respectable game of this genre, your objectives are not immediately reachable. Not without some effort. You’ll find yourself dealing with spikes and moving obstacles both above and under the surface. Many levels will require you to steadily build momentum while alternating between the surface and the ground while at the same time dodging any possible obstacle and, of course, avoiding to fall out of the screen. You’ll have to take into account that some platforms appear and disappear intermittently and sure as hell you don’t want to find yourself digging into one of those when they suddenly disappear. It’s a simple concept but allows for a wide variety of possibilities. And you’ll explore them all in the 150 levels of the game.
The levels are not linear. Although stages are labeled with progressive numbers, you don’t need to play them in any particular order. The stage selection screen reminds of a number of linked Solar System. When you beat a level, you unlock all those that are linked to it. This is good news because you’ll often find yourself stuck on a particular level. In that case you can just leave and play few others before trying again with a fresh mind.
The aestethic of the game, as we mentioned earlier, is pretty minimalistic. It’s made of a simple-yet-enjoyable pixel art. It got some problems though. The Sun and moon is the kind of game where you can’t afford to lose track of your actions and of where your character is. For this reason, I find the background of the game, made of random shapes that remember patterns in a camo suit, quite distracting. Mainly for the fact that said shapes are always in movement on a parallax. There are some levels where there’s a lot happening on your screen, and the background surely doesn’t help focus. Luckily, the options menu comes in our help, giving us the option to toggle off the background movement. Its complex pattern is still mildly distracting but should not give you many headaches.
The color scheme changes with the group (system) of levels you’re playing. It’s usually adequate and gives good contrast between the different parts of the level, making clear at a glance what is what. The only problems I had with it, was during the group of stages that used a yellow/orange color scheme. The colors themselves were very bright and after a while it becomes difficult to keep staring at the screen without losing focus (and god help you if you didn’t turn off the background movement). Plus, in those stages the text that takes track of the time is dark orange, making it hardly readable given both the background color and the fact that the UI element that contains it is black. There are other color combinations that will, in some cases, make your eyes strain, but nothing as severe as this case.
The soundtrack is made entirely in chiptunes. It’s simple and well executed and I found it enjoyable. It could use some more variety. The soundtrack doesn’t change much proceeding into the game, and at the end you’ll find yourself listening to the same few tracks. During extended playthroughs, it could really get under your nerves unless you are a huge fan of this kind of music.
You can play The Sun and Moon with both a controller or keyboard. Despite this being the kind of game that begs to be played with a joypad, I didn’t find the keyboard inadequate by any means. Controls are very responsive, like you would expect from a game where even millimetric movements can make the difference between success and failure.
If you want to try the game to see if it appeals to you before buying it, you can download the Ludum Dare version here. It only has a handful of levels but will give you a rough idea of what you’ll find in the complete version on Steam.
This game was obtained from the developer and reviewed on PC
The Sun and Moon is a neat platformer with some good ideas. It's not free from flaws but still a title that fans of the genre should consider