Review : Moo Lander : Farm Grade Mootroidvania

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Well over 10 years ago, two friends met each other at the Plovdiv Highschool of Musical Arts in Plovdiv Bulgaria. Their names were Yasen and Dimitar, and they bonded over their shared love for video games and interest in computer programming. Together they would go on to create mobile applications, PC programs, and websites. As they grew their skill sets with these various projects, their journey began to reach its natural destination, which was to build video games together. The core idea of what would become their first project started to take form in the year 2013. Looking at the mobile game landscape at the time, the pair noticed a significant gap in quality games and figured they could be the ones to help fill it. The idea was simple: you would play as a UFO that abducts cows with a tractor beam, a combination as old as time itself.

However, as the pieces started to fall together, the team wanted moo’re. Moo’re complex levels, moo’re mechanics, moo’re bovine baddies, and eventually the team moo’ved from the humble beginnings of the moo’bile world and set their sites on the D1 Graded prized segment of gaming that is the PC and console market. The game was shown off at a Plovdiv Game Jam to the praise of the rest of the attendees, and it eventually made its way to the capital of Bulgaria via the annual GameDevSummit. The feedback that the team got filled them with determination, and, together, they decided go big. A wide net was cast to fill the ranks of the newly minted studio, The Sixth Hammer, with talent coming from all over the world. After years of cultivation, the cow is finally out of the bag, and The Sixth Hammer’s first full release, Moo Lander, is here. How did it turn out? Lets graze on over and find out.

Moo’tion Impossible

In the game, you play as Lander, a member of an alien species whose entire race is very dependent on a specific substance, milk. The only problem is that milk is becoming extremely scarce on your home world. With the steaks higher than ever, the hopes of this entire civilization rest on your shoulders as you and your trusty AI companion, Hamilton, travel to Mars in search of more milk. However, not everything goes according to plan as, instead of landing on Mars, you mistakenly crash land on Earth. Its not all bad, however, as even though Earth is full of dangerous creatures, it is also full of mutant cows, who are themselves full of milk!

Throughout the game, you will travel across various biomes to track down these cows and teleport their milk back to your home planet. Along the way Hamilton will fill you in on all of the various flora and fauna that inhabit the planet. As Lander embarks on a journey of self discovery, he will start learning why, exactly, he ended up on Earth, as it might not have been an accident after all. If you have not been able to tell yet, the basis for the game is, of course, extremely silly, but when you dig past the surface level cow and cow-adjacent jokes and puns, what is underneath is a surprisingly thought-out narrative and world.

Chef Inspired

In a blog post on the developer’s web site, they mention a few key inspirations for Moo Lander. They talk about being influenced by the game play concepts present in the ever popular Metroidvania genre, as well as the art style featured in masterpieces such as Rayman and Ori. These influences are felt on every frame of Moo Lander, and that is a wonderful thing. However, where inspiration ends, innovation begins, and that is perhaps most realized in the game’s traversal system. Running, jumping, and becoming a sphere and rolling around are all very common conventions among nearly all Metroidvania titles. Moo Lander instead opts for something different, though. As the pilot of a UFO, you have complete freedom of movement on both the X and Y axis, which drastically subverts those common genre conversions. This one change really helps this game stand out among the slew of Metroidvania style games that we have seen over the past few years.

 

The ability to fly is more than just a traversal mechanic, though, as it is tied deeply into the game play. Instead of overcoming difficult platforming segments, you will have to expertly fly through ever-tightening corridors. Instead of jumping over incoming attacks, most combat instead plays out closer to a classic shoot’em up. I will say, though, as surprisingly tight as the game play is, I do have one contention with the game play on offer, which is that the iconic cow fights come up a little short. There are many cows you will encounter throughout the game in which you must use non-lethal attacks to take down so you do not harm their milky interiors. The different cows all have unique traits and mechanics, which sets them apart from one another, which is nice. The problem lies mostly with the design of many of these encounters. Most of your non-lethal attacks can be reflected by the cows via an ability that they all seem to spam frequently. On top of that, their hit boxes are small and their movement is fast. This leads to a lot of button mashing until you’re are lucky enough to have some shots get through. It is worth noting, however, that I played the game on the challenging difficulty which may have made this worse.

Overall, though, I did quite enjoy the exploration aspects, puzzles, and non-cow combat encounters. All of these were well beyond my expectations for a game where you play a UFO trying to abduct cows. This is a legit Metroidvania that is a lot more than just its silly premise. Perhaps one of my favourite aspects is the fact that a lot of the backtracking, which is very common for the genre, is replaced by a much more linear path. Backtracking is my least favourite genre trope, and having a more linear path allows for a more engaging story, in my opinion. There are still some open exploration areas, though, but even those make smart use of shortcuts, so you never feel like you are wasting time backtracking.

Aim for the Moo’n

I said earlier that this game was about an alien named Lander in search of milk to save his people, but that is only half true. The real story of this game is a team of friends who realized they had a shot at making a video game, had a silly idea, and refused to set limits or make compromises. This game started off as a simple mobile game, but it was willed into something much more. It has a story with a fully voiced cast, including a pretty great performance by Troy Hudson as Lander. It has RPG mechanics with lots of different ways to build your character, allowing a choice of different attack types, defensive moves, and non-lethal abilities for dealing with cows. It has branching dialogue options, hidden bosses, great music, and a suite of local multiplayer modes. Is it perfect? No, but every time I came across something new, I could almost feel each moment the team decided to add just “one more feature” to the game. Moments like these happened more frequently then I would have ever imagined when I booted up this game for the first time.

On its surface, Moo Lander is a silly game with a silly premise. However, behind that bovine exterior is a surprisingly good experience. Making games is not easy, and being able to release one is never guaranteed. The team at The Sixth Hammer knew this, and instead of playing it safe, they took shots for the moo’n! And, by golly, a lot of those shots landed.

Final Verdict : 7

     Fun Factor : 7
     Technical Prowess : 7
     Time Investment : 8 hours
     Replayability : 3

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By Eric Bezanson

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