Moss: Book 2 review: Modest VR mouse becomes mighty

Moss: Book 2 review: Modest VR mouse becomes mighty

Quill jumps into a fight in Moss: Book 2.

“Moss: Book 2 is a confident VR sequel that iterates on its predecessor just enough to make it feel new again.”

Pros

  • More varied combat
  • Tactile VR interactions
  • Strong puzzle design
  • More confident worldbuilding

Cons

  • Clumsy weapon switching
  • Stops just as its getting great

Moss: Book 2 is proof that small changes can have a big impact. Though the first Moss game was hailed as an early VR killer app, it was a touch thin on ideas. Its simple sword-swinging combat got repetitive fast and its puzzles largely revolved around the same set of basic interactions. Its short runtime made up for its mechanical shortcomings, but there was plenty of room to grow.

Developer Polyarc has risen to that challenge with its sequel, available now on PS VR. While it looks and feels identical to its predecessor at first glance, the latest chapter steadily peppers in new ideas that help the series reach its potential. The original looked to bring adventure game fundamentals to VR, but the sequel feels more akin to more modern games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps.

New combat options, abilities, and tactile interactions elevate Moss: Book 2 above a VR proof of concept. The experience isn’t much longer than the original, but the added variety makes a four-year-old game feel brand new again.

Mighty mouse

Moss: Book 2 picks up right where its predecessor left off. Players once again control Quill, an adorable white mouse who adventures through diorama-like worlds. Players are simultaneously controlling another character in first-person: The God-like Reader who can move large objects and heal Quill from afar. Both of those characters have more abilities this time around, deepening the interplay between them.

The slow drip of new tools keeps fights from getting repetitive.

On the mouse side, the most notable difference comes in the form of combat. Quill’s toolset was extremely limited in the original Moss, with battles largely revolving around simple sword slashes against the same handful of enemies. Polyarc has added more weapons to the game, including a boomerang-like chakram and a slow, but powerful hammer.

In addition to those new tools, each weapon has a special power that’s activated by holding the attack button and touching Quill as the Reader. The sword’s special power allows Quill to quickly zip forward, while the hammer readies a phantom copy of itself that the Reader can detonate at any time. Those special skills add more variety to battles, fixing the first game’s biggest flaw. The sequel still lacks in enemy variety, but the slow drip of new tools keeps fights from getting repetitive.

Quill jumps into a fight in Moss: Book 2.

The only problem with the new system is its implementation. To equip a weapon, players open up a radial menu as the Reader and drag it over to Quill. I found myself locked in a clumsy juggling act in later fights as I tried to quickly swap weapons on the fly and activate a charged ability before an enemy could hit me, all while still dodging around as Quill. It’s particularly strange because most of the DualShock’s face buttons go unused here. All three primary weapons could have been mapped to the face buttons, letting players attack more fluidly.

Even with the game’s small improvements, I still find space for it to grow in Book 3.

A more tactile world

The Reader gets some new tricks too, which similarly cut down the tedious moments of the original. By the end of the first Moss, I grew a little sick of dragging boxes and enemies around the screen. Puzzles are less of a one-trick pony here, as Polyarc created a more tactile world that puts VR controls to better use.

Quill approaches a giant tree with a marking on it in Moss: Book II.

For instance, the Reader can grow climbable walls by waving their hand over withered vines or create paths by connecting plants together. Powers like that bring a double dose of gratification. Like the original, Moss: Book 2 plays out in a series of Zelda-like puzzle dioramas with consistently clever solutions. The addition of more varied interactivity on top of that makes the puzzles feel like a series of satisfying fidget toys.

Those systems meld together with Quill’s new tools to lend the sequel extra complexity. Some rooms had me spinning cans and manipulating enemy attacks as the Reader while using Quill’s charged chakram shot to break progress-blocking barriers. While that kind of multitasking can be difficult in combat, it’s much better suited to the game’s methodical puzzles, which rarely ask the players to do the same trick twice.

Moss: Book 2 is a single-player adventure, but there were times when it felt like I was playing with a close friend.

I especially adore each of the game’s boss fights, which toy with the interplay further. In one fight, I’m battling a giant, hammer-wielding knight that towers over Quill. When he smashes his hammer down, I grab the head as the Reader and engage in a game of tug of war, giving Quill (also controlled by me) a moment to attack. While there are only a few big battles, they act as a thrilling test of the player’s skills.

Quill and the Reader’s dynamic isn’t just a mechanical one. The surprisingly tear-jerking story is built around the relationship between the two. It’s one thing to be told two characters need each other. It’s another to actually feel it play out in rooms that neither character can navigate alone. Moss: Book 2 is a single-player adventure, but there were times when it felt like I was playing with a close friend.

Bring on Book 3

When I finished the first Moss, I was left feeling a little indifferent about the series’ future. I enjoyed my time with it, but didn’t feel like there was much more ground to cover. After Book 2, I’m already itching for a sequel on PlayStation VR2. That’s a testament to how comfortable with its creation Polyarc seems this time around. The worldbuilding is more confident, with a mix of grand lore and more personal character relationships that nearly drew some tears from me (thankfully, in VR, no one can see you cry).

There are moments where it feels like the game stops just as its getting on a roll

Level design especially benefits from the sequel treatment. While the first Moss largely played out in a fairly standard fantasy setting, Book 2’s world feels more ambitious. At times, I’d turn my head to see a giant tower looming in the distance, giving me a sense of scale that I never felt the first time around. Polyarc even saves its best twist for last, with a mind-bending set-piece pulled from M. C. Escher’s playbook.

That particular segment is a relatively short one that left me wanting more, which was a running theme throughout my adventure. I appreciate that Polyarc makes lean games that don’t overstay their welcome, but there are moments where it feels like the game stops just as it’s getting on a roll. For a brief stretch, Book 2 introduces a second playable mouse. I instantly fell in love with the new protagonist and was excited to see how they would change the established formula. That character is only around for a brief moment though, abruptly written off to continue Quill’s story.

Quill looks out at a forest in Moss: Book 2.

I can’t fully fault Polyarc for staying a little modest. VR games are best kept short, as wearing a headset for a long period of time can be a literal pain. I’m happy to see Moss continue on in short episodic bursts if it means each game will iterate and improve on the last. Wherever Quill goes next, I’ll be ready to lend her a helping hand.

Our take

Moss: Book 2 gives one of VR’s finest outings a much-appreciated tune-up. Both the action and puzzles have more depth this time around thanks to impactful new tools. At five hours, it’s a lean adventure game that’s more careful not to do the same trick twice. It still feels like there’s more room for growth, as the game wraps up just as it hits its stride and fumbles with combat controls, but each small improvement goes a long way. Moss: Book 2 isn’t just a great example of VR’s potential: It’s a great game, period.

Is there a better alternative?

Astro Bot: Rescue Mission is the best platformer on PS VR, and arguably the greatest VR game of all time, period.

How long will it last?

Moss: Book 2 is about an hour longer than its predecessor, clocking in at around four to five hours total.

Should you buy it?

Yes. If you’re looking for one last reason to dust off your PS VR before PlayStation VR2 launches, Moss: Book 2 is worth braving the dated tech.

Moss: Book 2 was tested on PS VR hooked up to a PlayStation 5.

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