As a gamer who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s I have a massive soft spot in my heart for side-scrolling pixel art platformers, and I’ve really loved their resurgence over the past decade or so during the big indie gaming boom. That said, there are A LOT of indie developers with a similar gaming upbringing to mine, and they’ve leaned SO heavily into the pixel art platformer genre that, despite loving the genre so much, my eyes just kind of glaze over at this point whenever I see a new one. I mean for every genuinely fantastic new entry there are at least a couple dozen entirely mediocre or even just straight up bad ones.
It would be very easy to look at Rayark’s MO: Astray on the surface and just gloss over it as yet another one of “those" pixel art platforming games. I did that exact same thing myself with the game’s PC launch a year ago and its Nintendo Switch launch just a couple of months ago. I mean I have an anxiety-inducing backlog of platformers as is, so despite hearing a ton of buzz and seeing glowing reviews left and right, I’ve had a hard time justifying picking up MO: Astray on either of those platforms. But with the game arriving on iOS and Android this week, it’s much easier to give the game a chance because in this context it’s literally my job, and so now after finally playing MO: Astray for myself I can safely say: Don’t be an idiot like me. Don’t sleep on this absolute masterpiece.
This is perhaps far too much exposition for a simple Game of the Week article as I’m not leaving myself a ton of time to talk about the game itself. In reality though that’s not a bad thing, as MO: Astray is best experienced firsthand. What I can tell you are the basics. This is a puzzle platformer that balances things nicely between puzzling and skill-based platforming. The mechanics are weird at first. You’re sort of a little… blob thing, and can freely move left or right with the invisible direction pad in the lower left of the screen. Jumping, however, is handled like a slingshot. The default is set up like Angry Birds where you’ll pull back to aim and let go to jump. In the options you can basically reverse this so that you’re swiping in the direction you want your little blob to move, more like how jumping works in Oddmar, and I much preferred playing this way. If you’ve played Dandara the movement in MO is somewhat similar, as you’ll fling yourself around and grab onto walls and ceilings automatically. You can also use a physical controller with the mobile version of MO: Astray if that’s more your thing.
While the movement does feel weird at first, you do warm up to it quickly and you’ll be surprised at just how nimbly you can move about the environments in MO: Astray. And it’s good that controls and movement isn’t something you have to constantly think about, because then you can focus all your attention on the game’s absolutely tremendous atmosphere. The visuals, the sounds, the story… this is one of those games where everything just comes together beautifully. Our own Shaun Musgrave reviewed the Switch version in September and his words are definitely worth reading, as our the positive impressions from players in our forums. While you might think you don’t have room for another pixel art platformer in your life, MO: Astray is so, so much more than that and you definitely owe it to yourself to experience it on whatever platform you can.