Michael Hicks sees no reason to separate his values from his video games. The world is a challenging place, and it will take every opportunity to discourage you, but perseverance and wit will help you not only conquer your biggest challenges, but do so in a morally palatable way.
His puzzle-platformer, The Path of Motus, doesn’t step lightly on this mantra. The titular character has a real problem with being bullied. All the other goblins in the forest have nothing nice to say about, constantly hurling insults and demotivations at him. These disses actually fire like projectiles from your run-of-the-mill side scrolling shooter, and you can either deflect them with your own word bullets, or avoid them completely with jumps. Each enemy is its own miniature debate, in that way.
They are deliberately placed in platforming set ups, often requiring you to avoid/repel them as well as circumnavigating some sort of falling floor set up. As things get more difficult – your enemies start slinging different colored words that need matching colored responses, enemies fire multiple words in succession, splitting duties with other characters, etc. – the side scrolling adventure becomes an increasingly mind-bending experience. .
This is before you encounter the building puzzles, which feature numbered nodes that must be strung together with a coberrating number of lines. These start out simple enough, but start to require some very elaborate problem solving as the game progresses.
The art is friendly and folksy, with backgrounds that feel effectively whimsical and sinister when it aims to do those things. Some of the writing, which mostly consists of bully goblins being jerks to you, can feature hints to how to sole some puzzles. In an early section, you stumble across a poem Motus wrote about being isolated and alone. The concept of isolation applies so a subsequent number puzzle, where working on it a section at a time can provide a easy path to figuring out the solution.
“Having this sort of relationship between the poems and the puzzles is my overall goal with that,” Mike told me. In a poem later on about inspiration, smaller numbers all attach to a larger, inner number, which plays to that same theme.
The Path of Motus struck me as a game that would be perfect for tweens, young impressionables who will struggle with bullying, and who will be hungry for new ways to challenge themselves. “I absolutely can see this in schools,” Mike agreed.
Path of Motus will not be the game you think it is when you first approach it, but with very little investment, you’ll start to see how tangled the web gane be, and how talented Hicks is at making a lot out of a little bit.