It seems that, nowadays, there’s a new gamejam almost every month. And why the hell not? They’re a great opportunity for developers, amateur and professional alike, to flex their creative muscles within the confines of each jam’s chosen theme and time constraint. Ideas thought up in the heat of a gamejam can even make it to a full retail product, and join the likes of Surgeon simulator or Receiver. For Ludum Dare 29 all competitors created games to fit the theme “beneath the surface”, and now its winning game, The Sun and Moon, has graduated to a full Steam release.
First impressions are key, so you could be forgiven for thinking that The Sun and Moon‘s visual simplicity belies an even simpler game. You play as a small worm creature with the ability to dig underground, but in order to dig deep down you’ll need to leverage the power of gravity and your own weight. Whilst the game is mechanically simple, it’s the ways in which you’ll utilise them, to overcome the game’s puzzles, that provides variety.
Each quick-fire level has you collecting a number of gems, and you can make your way to the exit once you’ve picked them all up. Levels don’t last very long, with some being as brief as 8 seconds or less, but you’ll need to be quick and have some serious finger dexterity to become that masterful. A three-tier grading system is included to encourage/taunt you, and you’ll face a real challenge to even gain the lowest grade in some levels.
The game drops you in the shallow end to begin with, tasking you with only picking up gems, but the difficulty ramps up very quickly. Pretty soon you’ll be throwing yourself off platforms and stairs, trying to gain enough momentum to fire yourself to other, higher platforms. Each level has an ideal solution, and its up to you to figure it out. But even if you do manage to decode a level, you’ll still need to seamlessly weave every movment, dive and dodge together to get to the exit quickly enough for that top ranking.
The control scheme is, at least, on your side, and you’ll only need to use the directional keys alongside the shift button if you want to dive underground. Some levels may prove too difficult or demand some time to fully understand, luckily the overworld map has a branching structure that allows you to visit multiple different areas at once. Each new area brings its own challenges, but also a refreshing change of scenery, as well as an extra layer for the game’s chiptune soundtrack.
And about that soundtrack, it’s pleasant enough to keep your head bopping and feet tapping, whilst not breaking your concentration as you fail for the 20th time. It’ll even extend itself as you unlock new areas, adding new layers to the beat, making it more complex and diverse.
You probably already know if you’ll enjoy The Sun and Moon. Its excruciating difficulty and intense gameplay make it an acquired taste, only fit for those who can pick themselves up after repeated failure, only to continue playing.
As much as we wish we were any good at The Sun and Moon, we just aren’t – as our ground teeth, pounded keyboard, and flipped desk will attest to. It’s the very epitome of videogame masochism and punishes far more than it rewards – unless you can give it the ample time required to master its 150+ levels. It’s one of those games that really makes you work for your gratification, even if only a fleeting sense of achievement. So if you don’t mind, we’ll be backseat gamers and watch someone else play it instead.
The Sun and Moon is available on Steam.