I would love to know what happens to time and space inside Moose Life. Llamasoft’s latest arcade shooter sets you between two planes – you can jump between them – while enemies advance from the horizon. The thing is: if you miss the enemies and they go past you, they soon reappear in front of you! It’s a Pac-Man wraparound, fine, but you can also move forward and back as well as from side to side? So it’s a little scrolling pocket of…now…surrounded by…?
Like Polybius, Moose Life works with or without VR, but in truth it feels like VR even if you’re playing with no headset. The rest of the world bleeds away and you’re left with this dark space filled with particles and phosphemes. The sound of the dishwasher in the background drops away to the pulsing beat. Any thought of what you’re doing later or what the weather is like outside ceases to have meaning as stars erupt and the baddies flock and scatter. It’s almost overwhelming.
Almost. You explore this strange spacetime as a moose, a moose who can fire forward as they slide back and forth and flip from floor to ceiling. Almost everything that comes your way needs to be shot, and once shot often erupts with a shower of particles and an interesting sound effect. Early on you find little playroom flu viruses bobbling towards you. They tinkle like crystal when you burst them open and they spawn copies of themselves. Some enemies change forms and become deadlier if you leave them alive for long enough. Some objects send out expanding waves of death if you shoot them, forcing you to dance from one plane to another. Now and then you get a Robotron baddie or something else from Arcade’s long, beautiful lineage. Onwards!
There are a few wrinkles I’ve noticed so far. Spheres bound along every now and then and release sheepies when you blast them. Collect the sheepies and get them to the end of the level. How could you not? They are adorable! And then every now and then you get a pill bounding along that grants a hilariously extreme power-up. Spread shots and powerful shots, fine. But one conjured a wall of giraffes around me. Another sent deer scattering into the distance.
Llamasoft’s games always look so gorgeously extreme that it can be easy to ignore how beautifully they play. You slide across the planes of Moose Life like your stocking feet are moving over polished marble. This is a world of particles, millions of particles, but no friction, no hitches. And while the screen is almost comically cluttered with explodey bits, with text, with warps and time-tunnels and waves of nasty grubs, it remains peculiarly readable. No developer throws as much at you as Llamasoft, but no developer makes the whole thing feel as joyous.
That’s it, really: this is a joyous game, regardless of whether you start each time from the very beginning or opt to play with no punishment for the loss of life. As the levels pile up and the gimmicks flow, Moose Life makes me happier and happier. VR or not, this is the perfect game to play right now. I love it, and it feels like it loves me back.