Going on vacation is relaxing until your friend goes missing. The protagonist, J.J. Macfield, finds herself on a dark yet strange adventure to find her lost companion. Malice is everywhere, but after an unexplained phenomenon, J.J. can take severe damage and suffering without death. The only way she can die is if she’s completely dismembered and her head is destroyed. This may remind you NeverDead, which featured a similar “dismembering” based character. I assure you, this is different than anything you have played.
The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories is a puzzle platformer that allows you to hurt yourself to give you advantages in physics. You can use a saw to propel your body up and forwards, cut off an arm to throw and knock down items, and even roll around as just your head to squeeze through tight places. There is an ability to heal yourself as if it never happened. You are warned about the morbid content presented within when you first start up the game. It has a very unsettling subject matter that centers around suicide. Humor is tossed in as well, to lighten what is otherwise depressing.
Here’s what I liked:
Killer view — Death never looked so good. A gorgeous backdrop supports a chilling interactive atmosphere. Dark themed games are sometimes difficult for your eyes to adjust to, causing you to turn up brightness which in turn makes visuals poor. There are areas that are pitch black, but you can light yourself on fire to reveal the path. Of course, water proves an obstacle when your light is burning flesh as you become your own lantern. The game has a perfect balance of blacks and shadows that are impressive. At one point I looked into the sky with clouds and thought it had to be real and somehow implemented into the scene. They were actually moving above me. Lots of games take an artistic style that tries to give good first impressions, but here, this is just icing on the cake.
The mystery — Both you and the character you control will be confused about what’s happening. There are a few hints scattered around, but only in the end, is it revealed what is actually taking place. It’s the type of tale that might remind you of an anime centered around high school drama. Through text messages, you will discover more about J.J. and the people that matter. It has a dramatic ending and a spectacular one. Some may expect it, but most won’t and will be pleasantly surprised when it suddenly out of nowhere makes sense. Explaining the feeling when this happens would give too much away, but if you aren’t emotionally moved, then you might not have had any life experiences revolving around the subject matter. It all leads me to believe there might be something more to the title than the literal meaning of “missing.” I think you should find out.
Puzzles to die for — To continue forward, you must sacrifice yourself. There are many riddles to solve which incorporate needing to be on fire, throwing your own body parts and even decapitation. Some puzzles are similar in type, but there is a huge variety. A smart mechanic is used that involves shifting the world so that you’re on the ceiling. It’s hard to explain, but if you’re hit with blunt objects, you break your bones, and the world flips upside down. You must choose where you heal yourself, which reverses the effect and flips the world back to normal. There are plenty of creepy puzzles to be solved as well. You’ll be dumping bodies into graves and finding body parts to use for certain obstacles. An evil entity sometimes chases you, causing you to rush forward in a panic while platforming. It’s creative and fun, allowing you to enjoy an interactive experience with the deadly environment. I’ve played a ton of puzzle and platformer games, but this one mixes in both ingredients to make a special treat that actually uses some of the best aspects of each.
Life after death — Replayability is a strong feature in “The Missing.” You can replay chapters to grab collectibles that you may have missed. They unlock text messages and a lot of costumes. I was unlocking them so frequently that I always looked different. When you complete your first playthrough, you can use cheats. They allow you to damage yourself instantly, allowing you to complete puzzles with ease while you’re grabbing missed collectibles. You even get one that allows you to move faster. There are also collectibles that show up for special messages you couldn’t obtain in your first playthrough, kind of like a new game plus. I didn’t mind playing again, in fact, I welcomed the second look at the storyline after the fog was cleared. It gives an entirely different perspective. But one perspective that did stay consistent was that it’s an awesome experience.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
Slow and painful — Some segments have you running for quite a long time before you get to the next area. Not much goes on as you run. You can take in scenic areas, but you’ll be feeling the drag as you move. Besides traversing, some animations take time to perform. The switch from standing on the ground to moving to the ceiling is almost a burden, especially when you mess up. Not that I think it should be instantaneous, but maybe even just cut in half (not literally). Ducking and getting into a crawl on the ground can be cumbersome and awkward. There is a cheat you eventually unlock that allows you to run faster, but it doesn’t impact the animation for turning the world right side up. When you get random text messages that are story based, it can also be slow to read and reply. This is more tedious if you’re replaying chapters, and the cheat option for reading faster doesn’t seem to apply to them. Pacing is effected quite a lot by the constant interruptions. I love almost everything about what I played, but please, let’s get a move on already.
Text messages — You can check messages from your mobile device. They give insight on past conversations with J.J. to friends and family. I liked the idea and thought it was quite clever, but I got bored of them quickly. There are a few I just didn’t really care about at all. J.J. is very short with some people, who are typing her walls of text. I don’t really know why they even try. Some things are interesting, but others are pretty boring. I found myself skipping certain conversations I didn’t think added to the storyline. However, I paid more attention after finishing the game because of the brilliant ending. They do take a long time to read, and there are awkward scrolling controls, adding insult to injury. Besides past messages, there is one character who texts you in real time. It’s humorous but also becomes repetitive, as it interrupts you and takes a while to get through them. If you restart a checkpoint, you will have to go through the motion of checking the live message again. Checkpoints are a bit painful, and I wish there were more of them to avoid these instances.
Besides being a fun puzzler, The Missing provides a look into depression and psychological torment. It’s grotesque yet elegant. I would even go to claim that it’s a borderline masterpiece. It leads you in one direction then turns out you were wrong the entire time. When it ends, it clicks all at once, and you suddenly want to read all the message conversations over again and play through to see everything in a different light. I couldn’t stop playing and actually spent seven hours straight playing until it was finished. I even kept replaying chapters afterward to collect what I missed. Overall, I think bold design choices were made, and we are rewarded with one of the best platformers available.
Score: Must Buy
The MISSING: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories was published by ARC SYSTEM WORKS and developed by White Owls Inc. on Xbox One. It was released on October 11, 2018, for $29.99.