Review: MO:Astray

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This game was selected as one of our February 2020 Reader’s Choice Reviews. Learn more on our Patreon page.

Hey everybody, meet MO! MO is the new adorable player character on the block, a precious little ball of blue jelly with big, curious eyes and floppy little ears. This little dear is going on a big adventure, through the mysterious ruins of a vast, high-tech complex. Danger lurks around every corner, too, as animated corpses give chase and brutal creatures rip apart anything they can get their claws on. MO isn’t helpless, though! Sticking to enemy heads, MO can direct them into crushers and grinders, or even use dash powers to rip their heads off their bodies! Yep, MO is a charming little protagonist in a big, gory adventure, and it turns out to be one hell of a thoughtful adventure that even addresses the absolutely bizarre tone it puts up.

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MO awakens in the bowels of a huge facility, with no memory of who or what it is. A distant voice christens the little blob MO, in fact, and directs MO around in an effort to help it escape. Terrible things have very obviously happened in this place, and MO is going to need all the help it can get. Able to stick to walls and ceilings, MO is plenty mobile and only becomes moreso as it gains additional abilities like midair hops and dashes. Mostly these powers will be used to solve the wealth of puzzles sealing off the different parts of the ruins, but they’ll also come in handy when dealing with the denizens of this place. Grotesque and tragic, these creatures can be scanned by sticking to their heads to learn more of the game’s sprawling backstory, like where you are and what you’re doing here.

And yes, eventually you’ll be able to rip their heads clean off. MO:Astray has a very unusual tone to it, like a Rain World taken to almost comical extremes. You’re a cute critter scrambling through grim ruins, with a bright little voice in your ear as you solve clever puzzles. That’s all well and good until you come across a tormented husk of a human being, infected with some awful, irreversible plague and unable to fully die because of the twisted resurrection systems still running in the facility. Get past them and you’ll find a whole room of them, mutilated and spiked on giant skewers by brutal killers intent on feeding them to something even worse. There are corpse pits, flashbacks to vicious murders, and even puzzles that require you to crush, grind, or dismember people to progress.

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The strangest thing about all of this is that it doesn’t feel entirely out of place, and that might be because of how the story slowly comes together. In your first hour or two, MO:Astray is going to feel like tonal whiplash as you solve puzzles and hop around between piles of viscera. Once you learn more about the humans, their adversaries, and their circumstances, though, the desperate themes of the story start to bring this all in line. By the end of the game you’ll be able to see MO’s place in a fascinating science fiction tragedy, and the whole package will feel neatly tied up with lengths of intestine. It’s a gory game, shockingly so at times, but if you can stomach all those pixel bits it builds to something really neat.

Your biggest barrier to seeing this through are going to be the puzzles that make up each of the game’s long and winding five chapters. They’re not bad puzzles, and in fact some of them are really quite clever applications of MO’s funky powers. MO can scoot left or right but anything else is a directional leap using the right stick and jump. This and MO’s penchant for sticking to surfaces means almost nothing is out of reach if you’re clever enough, and the powers you unlock at regular intervals all bring you even more reach. There are clever gimmicks, too, like a few uses for the facility’s cloning tanks and MO’s ability to interface with other living things. The difficulty ramps up steadily across the chapters as well, and gets tricky enough in the back half of the game that you probably won’t be playing this one in long stretches lest you grow irritated at some of the tougher maneuvers.

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It’s all entirely worth it for the world and the story, grim and bloody though they may be. Bosses are a surprising highlight, too, each of them having some major connection to the story and some really neat mechanics to contend with. Each is very different, which speaks to the overall variety of the game as it introduces new mechanics, puzzles, and environments just when the ones you’re on start getting old. There are pain points, of course, but none so bad you can’t push through on this long journey. As uneasy as my first hops in MO:Astray were, it really proved itself as a clever, beautiful adventure in many ways.

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