From the peculiar mind of Hidetaka Suehiro, also known as SWERY, comes yet another gaming experience that is sure to leave players scratching their heads in disbelief. SWERY has become somewhat of an icon in the games industry for creating odd games that manage to amass a cult following. His most popular game is Deadly Premonition, a game that holds the title of the “most critically polorizing survival horror game” in the 2012 Guinness World Records Gamer’s Edition. His newest release is The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories, a game that I’ve had the… pleasure?… of playing recently.
The game explores one character’s desperate attempts to find her best friend on Memoria Island after she goes missing. Played as a 2D side-scrolling puzzle/platformer, The Missing brings a macabre and frankly janky gameplay experience to the player’s hands. Progressing through an odd world that is as unsettling as it is confusing, you’ll have to sacrifice your own limbs to progress on your journey. J.J., the protagonist, will literally be required to sever her own body parts and set herself ablaze in order to progress through some of the game’s most basic puzzles. Thankfully her power of restoration means her injuries aren’t permanent, but that certainly doesn’t diminish her screams of agony as her body contorts and rips apart.
The game is uncomfortable, deliberately so. And when you’re not injuring yourself or solving puzzles you’ll be texting with your stuffed toy or encountering a demonic goat/man creature who loves talking in nonsensical jargon. The whole game is dark and riddled with confusing happenings. I’m still struggling to figure out if the bizarre sights and sounds have a deeper or intellectual meaning or if they simply exist because they can. I’m starting to lean towards the latter.
The game has an interesting premise to its puzzling that certainly made me intrigued. It was willing to deal with themes and mechanics that your average game wouldn’t dare touch, and that got me excited. I don’t like cookie-cutter experiences or games that struggle to form their own identity. If a single game could have been developed by any number of different gaming studios then that game really doesn’t have a very unique perspective. The Missing and SWERY will never suffer from this problem. The game is as unique and identifiable to a single perspective as can be. Although I can’t help but wonder what the point of the whole thing is. If you’re going to be unique that’s fantastic, but you also need to have purpose. And being different or weird for the sake of it isn’t a strong enough purpose.
Mechanically the game is hit and miss. It unfortunately feels stuck in the past with character animations and general player feedback not feeling up to scratch. Even smaller studios with less experience have managed to create games that are much more fluid and controllable which is a big mark against The Missing. However you’re never going to play this game for its tight platforming. I also doubt you’re going to play this game for its clever puzzles or engaging narrative. Chances are you’re playing The Missing to get a glimpse into the mind of SWERY. You’re playing The Missing because it is conceptually different to anything else on the market and because every new area will be full of surprises, oddities, and confusion.
I don’t know that I can go and recommend The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories to every gamer. But I have no doubt there are people out there who would adore The Missing’s creatively unsettling design choices. As for me, I think I need to go and play something adorably cute to help bring me back to my happy place.