Winner of Ludum Dare 29, a game jam that tasks creators with making a game in a set time limit based on a theme suggested by the community, The Sun and Moon is a game created in 24 hours based on the theme ‘Beneath the Surface’. Ludum Dare 29 took place in the Spring of 2014, and since then The Sun and Moon has come on leaps and bounds – releasing on the PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4 two years after its initial inception.
Daniel Linssen’s platformer is brilliantly simple, yet at times excruciatingly difficult – drawing similarities with platformers such as Super Meat Boy, N++ or Sound Shapes due to its challenging nature. Controlling a small blob-like being with eyes and a tail of sorts you must navigate the game’s many levels collecting orbs before you can exit through an end-level wormhole. This sounds simple in premise, but obstacles such as spikes, huge drops and impossible-to-scale heights will come between you and the exit hole, making the execution that little more difficult.
Here is where The Sun and Moon comes into its own. The game has a unique dynamic that allows you to dive into the ground. When you do this the speed at which you are travelling continues, yet the gravitational pull is reversed. Using this physics-bending ability will allow you to dive into the ground and fling yourself high into the sky to attain hard to reach targets and complete each of the game’s 150 stages.
Controlling this little blob is extremely intuitive, with the analogue sticks or directional pad used for movement, the X button used to jump and the dive mechanic activated using either of the Vita’s shoulder buttons. Other than these three, the only other button you will find yourself using on a regular basis is the Triangle button, which acts as a quick restart that resets the level instantly and allows for you to attempt the stage again – something you will be doing often! Platformers of this ilk need to keep the audience’s attention and not break momentum, so the fact that there are no loading screens between levels and deaths is a bonus.
The levels themselves are basic in appearance, and gradually introduce new obstacles (such as moving characters to evade and rows of spikes to dodge) for you to overcome as you progress through the stages. These levels all share a similar template, but are separated into groups that are distinguishable by both colour scheme and theme. The aim to these stages is to beat them as fast as possible, with awards handed out for beating certain times. The typical bronze, silver and gold awards are replaced here with a crescent moon, full moon and sun – giving us the inspiration behind the game’s name. There are also boss-like stages that can be played towards the end of each area where you have to collect the orbs and head for the exit as per the normal levels in the game – with the added challenge of avoiding an enemy blob-like character that chases you about the level.
Although difficult in parts, you will learn everything you need to in order to progress in The Sun and Moon by simply playing through the levels. There are times where you will get frustrated or stuck on a single stage, but in The Sun and Moon you can simply exit out of that stage and go and tackle any one of the other stages that are open and available on the game’s sprawling, interlinked level select screen. This made the game a lot more enjoyable for me, as when I found one stage that was causing me frustration I simply moved to another stage and then returned to the one that was causing me hassle once I’d had some time to think it over. There was never a time when I felt that I couldn’t progress any further – which is a testament to how well the open structure of the level select works.
Another thing which I think works really well is that the game doesn’t force the need for high scores down your throat. Although there are a trophies that are dished out for completing 100 levels with full moon medals and 100 levels with sun medals, these are not necessary in order to progress. Levels can be completed in seconds, but some of them will take you a little longer as you try to figure them out and may see you needing to return if you are going to be chasing high scores.
The one thing that didn’t particularly hold up well for me was the game’s soundtrack. The Sun and Moon appears to use the same track on a continuous loop during play, and although at times it does help you to get into the zone when playing it does start to grate on you. The audio is reminiscent of the wonderful 16-bit era but it is a shame that more wasn’t done to add variety to the tune that accompanies your playthrough – meaning the soundtrack soon becomes repetitive.
Don’t let that take away from what The Sun and Moon gets right, and definitely don’t let looks deceive you! Although aesthetically simple, The Sun and Moon is a great platformer that focuses on the basics and gets them right. Sure there are other games on the Vita that come with all the bells and whistles when it comes to graphics, atmosphere and character design – but when it comes to gameplay and challenge, The Sun and Moon absolutely nails it!