Every Friday, AV Club Staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
Three and a half years ago—Christ, the time!— I wrote an installment of this column that posed a blunt question: Was I a jackass for dropping $300 on Sony’s semi-budget answer to the burgeoning virtual reality market, the PSVR? It was a standard version, really, of the early adopter’s lament: Spending too much on a system that promised too much and delivered… Well, okay, it delivered a few great things.
Among them was Polyarc’s Moss, an intensely charming fairy tale adventure released back in early 2018, in which you, as a giant looking down into a series of gorgeous pop-up-book-esque dioramas, helped an adorable mouse named Quill face off against clockwork crustaceans and an evil , uncle-kidnapping snake. It was, and still is, a beautiful, surprisingly moving experience, with the worst thing you could say about it being there just wasn’t enough of it. (A common problem with VR games, which have an annoying tendency to be full-price experiences at just slightly longer than demo length.)
Now, Moss: Book II has finally arrived, exclusively on PSVR—which is to say, on a system that is only barely keeping up with either modern consoles or present-day VR tech. (Technically, you can play Moss on a PS5 hooked up with a PSVR—if you have an adapter for the PlayStation Camera, and if you have a PlayStation 4 controller it can track.), I was happy to hook up the various cords and charge the various controllers required to play it; Such was the affection that my earlier adventure with Quill—one of the most charmingly animated heroes in all of gaming—had engendered in my heart.
Revisiting the vibrant animal world of Moss, I was struck once again by a strange facet of these games: They didn’t need to be in virtual reality, at all. And yet, they’re both incredible selling points for the tech. The actual play of Moss: Book II is, after all, fairly simple: Like the first game, you simultaneously maneuver your murine hero with the usual buttons and sticks on the controller, while also using a ball of light (engaged with via the VR controls) to manipulate the environment to help them progress. There’s nothing you do with that latter set of abilities that couldn’t be easily replicated on the controller’s right stick. Meanwhile, the motion tracking is neat but purely optional, and Moss never uses the PSVR’s head-tracking for more than a few small shifts in perspective.
And yet, there’s nothing quite like the sense of looking down into these beautifully realized worlds, all distractions blocked out and magic all around. Or of watching Quill scamper over an obstacle or duel an enemy—only to offer a high-five to you triumph, her Reader, for your assistance. Lots of VR experiences try to trick the brain into immersing itself in approximations of reality. But Moss Beats most of them by presenting a slightly artificial world, and then making it as lush and beautiful as though you were really turning the pages of an enchanted book.
I haven’t finished Book II yet, although I remain fascinated, both by its visuals, and by its attempt to tell a slightly darker and more nuanced fairy tale than what the first game offered. The new powers and enemies are all just as charming and fun to play with as the first set—especially these little dudes that you can send bouncing around the environments like pinballs—and the play continues to be engaging without being too frustrating. (A bit too much back-tracking if you’re hunting down secrets, but nobe’s, etc.) It’s a mild shame that the game is currently exclusive to hardware rapidly fading into the distant past, but hey: At least I feel a little less like a jackass for having a headset sitting around to experience it.