The Missing Review: Discovery
Kalvin Martinez / Dec 4th, 2018 No Comments
Humans are naturally curious beings. We love a mystery. There is something incredibly tantalizing about being kept in the dark. Our innate desire to know the truth means we’re constantly trying to guess who’s the killer, where the money went or what is going on in Lost.
The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories capitalizes on our curiosity. What makes it a stellar mystery is how it subverts your expectations, both in terms of story and gameplay. It keeps you guessing until the very end.
The Allure of a Mystery
It couldn’t have been more perfect. J.J. and her friend Emily decided to go on a vacation to the falls. It was just the two of them basking in the glory of nature. Nothing could have been better … that was until Emily goes missing.
Jackie swallows her fears and decides to venture out into the unknown to track down Emily. However, her search immediately goes south when she is struck by a bolt of lightning in the middle of an open field and burned alive.
The strange thing is that Jackie doesn’t die. She discovers she has a preternatural ability to regenerate. Death won’t stop Jackie from finding Emily, and neither will the traps and monsters inhabiting the island. She’ll endure whatever dangers lurk in this place.
Where is Emily? That’s the central question The Missing posits at the outset of its narrative. Our mystery is about where Emily went, what happened to her and whether she is okay? A disappearance is always a great way to draw someone into a story. However, it isn’t the only mystery happening on the island.
There is also the mystery of why Jackie can survive gruesome deaths and regenerate herself. And what is that terrifying spectre chasing Jackie? And where did all these traps and strange creatures come from? Why is F.K., her stuffed animal, texting her? The closer Jackie gets to Emily, the more it becomes clear that Emily’s whereabouts may be the least pressing issue.
Much of Jackie’s backstory gets fleshed out through text conversations on her cellphone. Not only are there interactions with Emily, but she also exchanges messages with classmates, professors and her mother. These conversations unfold as Jackie continues to search for Emily on the island. They are mostly historical, but the tone changes to concerned and worried the closer Jackie gets to Emily. It becomes clear they hold a key to an even larger mystery: what’s going on with J.J.?
Death is Not the End
The nature of video game promotion means that we learn nearly everything about a game before we get a chance to play it. While it is nice to know what you’re getting into, it means it can be difficult to surprise gamers. The Missing has a very specific gameplay element that was a focus of its promotional trailers. Despite the fact that I knew what to expect, the opening sequence caught me off guard, proving that just because we know what’s going to happen doesn’t mean we can’t still be affected by how it happens.
When Emily disappears, J.J. starts to frantically search for her. She runs after her from their campsite across the island during a raging thunder storm. As she searches for clues, she discovers troubling things, like a monster ripping out the entrails of a person who looks like her.
This acts as a way to get used to the platforming and exploration elements of the game. Here you learn basic movements like crawling, jumping, manipulating objects on the island, and how to throw things. What you’re really waiting for is the chance to use the gameplay hook.
After awhile, you find a wide open field full of beautiful, vibrant lilacs among a sea of windmills. The storm is raging hard, with the lightning striking down around you setting windmills and parts of the field ablaze.
When a burned out tree trunk gets hit with lightning, it begins to fall. Knowing that death doesn’t matter, you let it come down on top of you. However, you are immediately crushed under the weight of the tree. On the next attempt, you back away from the free and try to climb over, only to be struck by lightning. The bolt burns you to a crisp and leaves you laying flat in the middle of the field. A doctor with a moose’s head shows up to try to revive you, but it doesn’t look good. It seems like the promo materials were lies and J.J. is actually dead.
This isn’t the end for you, though. Through sheer force of will, you stand and regenerate your organs, your muscles, your skin and finally your clothes. Once whole again, you move forward to grab your beloved stuffed animal, F.K., only to realize it is cinders. You start to cry and wonder where Emily is. Then, the opening theme swells in the background. Now, it’s time to get to work.
To find Emily, you’ll need to explore everything the island has to offer. That is when things get weird. The island’s locales are as varied as any metropolitan city, with seemingly incongruous areas to search. Why is there a bowling alley on this island?
Finding her won’t be easy. The island is populated with many dangers and monsters. Lucky for you, you can’t die. Yet, there are things worse than death — such as being shredded down to nothing but your intestines, being burned alive, having your limbs severed one by one and breaking your neck and shambling along. Death sometimes feels like it’d be a blessing.
In The Missing, death is not a hindrance. In fact, it is sometimes necessary to solve the island’s puzzles. The Missing encourages trial and error. For instance, if there is a lever that needs a certain amount of weight to be activated, you may need to lop off a limb or two to create enough weight to open up a new path. Are tree limbs blocking your way and no torch to throw at it? Time to self immolate and burn that sucker down.
The Missing is full of moments where you are challenged to re-think your notions of success in a video game. Dying isn’t a sin or a mark against your skill as a gamer. No, you often need to get creative with taking damage or dying in order to solve puzzles, and there is something wildly liberating about it.
It isn’t that The Missing is the most technically demanding platformer or a puzzle game that will frustrate you as you grasp for solutions to its puzzles and mysteries. It’s the creativity of its gameplay hook and alluring story that will make it hard to put down. Few video games can keep you guessing, but fewer still can defy your expectations. The Missing achieves both.
The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.
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