Moss blends Redwall and Zelda in one of the best VR games of the year

The biggest problem VR games are facing right now is how lazy I am. The headset, the sensors, the walled gardens determined by hardware and input and headsets and space—it stands little chance against my cozy chair and a lazy arm idly clicking. But tiny, adorable animal adventurers can overcome almost any challenge, including making me put on a headset.

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Moss is worth the effort of exploring the back of my PC for extra USB ports. It's worth letting go of an extra monitor to plug in my Rift. Moss doesn’t have mind-boggling puzzles, incredible combat, or breathless platforming segments, but it is the kind of game I dreamed of as a kid. 

It's the kind of game you'll want to play if you were (or are) part of the Redwall-adjacent young adult literary scene, and love a little mouse with a big-ass sword—or if you're fascinated with small things and hidden worlds within our own. The central protagonist is a lady mouse (Moss) and you, surprisingly.

As a spectral giant, you control Moss much like any third-person platformer, but you also push, pull, smash, and slide objects in order to help her through each scene.

Weirdly enough, Moss evokes Zelda and Dark Souls from time to time. 

Weirdly enough, Moss evokes Zelda and Dark Souls from time to time. 

It's surprisingly not the platforming and puzzles and simple combat that make Moss so engrossing. It's the perspective. If Moss wasn't a VR game, it'd be a fairly routine platformer with a lovely storybook presentation, the kind of thing I'd gloss over in Steam and wish I had the patience to play.

This isn't to say that the platforming or puzzles are bad, but the reason to play Moss is to (VR buzzwords klaxxon) really be there, man. The sheer depth and detail each scene has doesn't come across in 2D images, but once the goggles are on, Moss becomes one of the most convincing VR games I've played.

Tall tales  

Standing tall over a scene, bending and tilting your head this way and that to find a hidden switch, passageway, or spike pit is fun on its own. That you're usually doing it in a forest, face inches from the ground recalls the sensation of being a kid and playing around in the dirt, spinning stories and characters out of sticks and grass. The scale is about right, too. Moss, to my eyes, looks about the size of a mouse, and beautifully animated to boot. Besides the occasional collision or clipping snafu when hitting a ledge or phasing through an object, Moss is more alive than most game characters. And when you lean in, wave for attention, and then goad a high five out of her, Moss might as well be there. 

Moss is no Secrets of Nimh or Watership Down, but it evokes those stories.

Guiding Moss through a little village near the beginning of the game is a tour meant to showcase the game's lovely attention to detail. It sets up a convincing world and history, even if you ignore the constant narration. Early on you and Moss walk through the town to her uncle's place. Guard mice patrol the grounds, another fishes lazily at a creek, children play in the path, and houses jut out of trees in every direction—rarely does a game so naturally teach players how to look up, let alone reward them for doing so. 

Not every scene has the same depth or detail, but there's usually something to spot in the distance or nestled in an alcove. A statue depicting a warrior from days gone, or a gigantic deer spooked by Moss's tiny movements.

Each diorama manages to tell a tiny story or contribute to a larger one, and as you move through them, clues as to what happened to the people in this world begin to gather: abandoned helmets, a bog pincushioned with old swords, an occasional bone 10 times the size of Moss. Underscoring the cute storybook narrative is a much more sinister, tragic tale about the futility of war. I appreciate stories meant for kids that don't skimp on darker truths.

Moss is no Secrets of Nimh or Watership Down, but it evokes those stories, both in how vulnerable their tiny protagonists are and how the massive scale of their worlds make human problems seem so self-serving and myopic. To think little Moss could've been crushed under an errant bootheel tortures me. 

It's the scale of the world sold through near perfect VR implementation that makes her worth protecting. One scene in particular stuck with me. Your destination, a castle, rests precariously on a oceanside cliff overlooking the husks of old ships and empty armor from a human war long over with. And there's Moss, a few pebbles high on the beach far below, scampering across the sand and through the ruins of mankind as you watch on. It's quiet and sad and feels a bit hopeless seeing that she's just one mouse. She's about to walk an impossible path. If I didn't have this dumb headset on and all these strange sensors crowding my desk, I don't think I'd care whether Moss made it or not.

But because I can lean in and say hello and pick her up when she falls down, because she sees me and I see her, and because I often forget that I'm standing in my office stumbling around in sweatpants, I might as well be helpful.

You can find Moss on Steam. It's playable on the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality.

James is PC Gamer’s bad boy, staying up late to cover Fortnite while cooking up radical ideas for the weekly livestream. He can still kickflip and swears a lot. You’ll find him somewhere in the west growing mushrooms and playing Dark Souls.