MirrorMoon EP is a bold experiment in trying to foster a more empowering relationship between players and creator through agency and a little hand-holding. Playing the game left me feeling refreshingly respected; I wasn’t funneled through a heavily scripted “experience” or propped up as a hero in a power fantasy. And while the lack of direction in the planetoid-manipulating puzzler is sometimes confusing, finally deducing (or stumbling upon) a solution is one of the most gratifying moments I have felt in a game since the pre-Internet FAQ days of the Super Nintendo.
There are very few hints; no golden trails or invincible Tanooki suits to save the player from becoming upset. But by letting the player get lost or confused, MirrorMoon is actually respecting the player’s intelligence and revealing a faith in the player to figure things out on their own.
Navigating the cockpit of your space ship, which ferries you from planet to planet, is a mini-game in itself, adding to the sense of exploration and discovery. Simply discovering the boot-up sequence among the many unmarked switches and buttons to activate your ship’s internal lights comes with a rush of accomplishment few games can achieve. And this is before the game really even begins.
I spent the next half hour exploring an empty planet floating through the star-filled expanse of space, armed with a strange gun that manipulates a nearby moon, vital to unlocking my own planet’s secrets. Picking up ancient artifacts allow me to rotate or even move the moon from its place in the sky to eclipse the sun, plunging the world into deep darkness to unearth secrets, other times bathing the world in light to find the way forward.
The game’s minimal instructions leave the player to explore. Feeling lost soon gives way to frustration and anger. Once the “Why have you forsaken me?” feelings towards the developer fade, boredom soon leads to experimentation.
It’s up to the player to discover what the mysterious coil around your “gun” does. Even when I figured out how to cause a solar eclipse, it was not obvious how it helped me. So I experimented, trial and error leading to a small victory.
Allowing players to name the galaxy’s planets themselves is another way the developer has relinquished direct control, trusting the player not to turn their beautiful creation into a universe of obscene and sexually suggestive monikers. While I definitely came across more than a few ‘JuicyButt’ planets and even some planetoid advertisements like ‘IGN 18′, a surprising amount of systems had evocative and fitting names.
While this may seem like blind faith on the part of the developers, they have subtly and intentionally embedded their vision into the game’s design. Whether it’s the breathtaking views from a planet’s surface, the sublime music, or the awe inducing gameplay itself like navigating a galaxy map that reiterates the sense of being a small part of a vast, beautiful universe, all of this must have surely evoked some of the more inspired names.
The creators have given players true agency, respecting their intelligence and given them the tools to succeed, with only experiences of beauty and wonder to guide them when choosing a name for the planet they explored, patiently suffering the obscene or subversive voices which represent the cost of free will.
Like Adam naming the animals in the Garden of Eden, it’s completely up to you.