If there's anything that fans of Hidetaka "Swery" Suehiro know, it's that you're going to have a weird time in his hands. Previously creating survival horror title Deadly Premonition and the short-lived D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die the weird and macabre is right up Swery's alley. The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories is the first title from Swery's development company White Owls Inc. The Missing is a surreal Puzzle platformer that brings with it an interesting challenge, as well as interesting commentary.
The game opens with J. J. and her love interest Emily out camping before Emily disappears. In search of Emily, J. J. ends up coming across an expansive field where she's struck by lightning. After laying there for a moment, she's revived, complete with a new resilence to death. Gathering yourself, J. J. then continues her quest to hunt down Emily. As you progress through the various puzzles of the world, text messages tell the story between J. J. and others in her life. Some of these characters include her friends, a professor at her college, her mother, and even her childhood stuffed animal. Plot delivered through text messages and conversations is a rough way to go. There is no context, no person to associate the messages with, and nothing to clue the player into the relationship until you've read through more.
After reaching the end of The Missing, all of the secrecy washes away. There's no way for the player to truly discover what's happening during gameplay. This is a story that tackles big issues like mental health and depression, as well as gender identities and how to feel comfortable in your own skin. The way it deals with these issues, alluding to J.J.'s secret and then relegating it to a surprise at the end, seems to be hiding any chance of meaningful development. The player doesn't get a chance to learn and grow with the character. Instead, the rug gets pulled out from under them.
As you hunt for Emily in The Missing you will go through a variety of different locations. These include a forest, a shipping yard, a diner, and even a bowling alley. You'll solve puzzles as you go to progress further. J. J. is able to break apart her body, separating her limbs and torso from her head as she takes damage. While seemingly grim, this mechanic becomes an interesting way to gin up solutions. Some uses of this include needing to throw your own arm at a box to have it fall, or becoming only a rolling head to pass through small gaps. One of the more jarring uses of this is a puzzle requires J.J. to shift between walking on the floor or on the ceiling. The way to invert gravity, at least from J. J.'s perspective, is to have your neck broken by a clapping monkey.
Once any part of J.J. seperates from the whole, she becomes a silhouette. This means that any squeamish players don't need to worry about gruesome sights. In addition to the dismemberment, J.J can also set herself on fire if the obstacle ahead requires burning. One gameplay drawback of injury is that it hampers J. J.'s ability to move. If you've only lost an arm then you'll walk slower, but hopping around on one leg is only temporary before you fall. While this gameplay mechanic is undeniably creepy it does give you the incentive to stay whole. None of the puzzles were difficult, but they might require a bit of trial and error to get all of the pieces in the right place.
The art direction of The Missing is something that sets it apart from a lot of other games. The characters are all beautifully animates showing natural movement, and even when dismembered. What's even more beautiful than the characters are the environments that you'll be traveling through. Early in the game, before the lightning strike, there's an extended scene walking through fields. Flowing grass and flowers with windmills quietly turning on rolling hills. The game even zooms out giving you the chance to take in the environment. Each new section of the world you travel to is distinct, allowing the players to identify the difference between a rail station and an industrial zone.
The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memory tries its best to deliver positive messages about being yourself and it being OK if some people don't like it. Having the story unravel through text messages and an endgame reveal serves to disconnect the player from the protagonist. The story keeps you at arms reach until it's ready to let you in on everything. You don't really get to know the protagonist, and you spend the whole game trying to guess where the story is going. What could have been a more emotional journey to take together becomes trivial. The missed opportunity of the story and simplistic puzzles overshadows the enjoyable gameplay.
The Missing: J. J. Macfield and the Island of Memory was reviewed for the Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher.
- Swery Had Best Intentions...
- Gorgeous Locations
- ...But Missed His Mark
- Gameplay Is Ok