The Path of Motus wants to make you a better person. The story follows a goblin named Motus as he navigates the perils of growing up while also pursuing his dream of finding a way out of the forest in which his goblin tribe resides—something which has never been done before. To this end, Motus must build bridges not only over chasms which separate him from his goal, but also between himself and those who don’t understand his efforts. The metaphor isn’t subtle. But what The Path of Motus lacks in subtlety, it makes up for in authenticity. From beginning to end, it is clear that independent designer Michael Hicks has drawn heavily from his own experiences to craft a story determined show the player that the childish idealism they once had is worth carrying into adulthood.
The singular strength of The Path of Motus is the way its gameplay promotes the message of its narrative. Motus must defend himself from bullies who attempt to halt his advance with unkind words, which are shot like projectiles through the air. Motus likewise has his own words which he may hurl back at his bullies to either mitigate the harm of their words, or to kill the bullies as they had intended to do to him. The player has three words to choose from (“Hey!” “Yeah!” “Why?”), each of which are colored coded according to their corresponding buttons on the gamepad. These colors are important, as meeting a bully’s word in the air with a word of the same color will mitigate its harm, while using the wrong word will do nothing at all.
The game has a plethora of enemy types which present unique problems requiring unique solutions, and are arranged such that players must find the “correct” way through each encounter. As a result, The Path of Motus is a platformer only by technicality—it plays much more like a puzzle game. While the player’s ability to react quickly does come into play frequently, success often means methodical planning followed by flawless execution.
These design choices worried me at first. It didn’t seem clear that I had any option other than to hurt Motus’ bullies in the same way that they sought to hurt me. In a game trying to convey the harm that words can have and how we may constructively suffer through the pain of rejection, inflicting that very same harm to those who seek to harm us didn’t seem like a constructive message. These concerns turned out to be unfounded. The game is very tutorial-light, so many of its features are left to be discovered by the player over the course of the game, lending a helping hand only when absolutely necessary. As in life, the high road only reveals itself once you’ve learned a thing or two, and this revelation shouldn’t be spoiled by a review.
Ultimately, The Path of Motus’s gameplay turns out to be a double-edged sword. Because it is so focussed on serving the narrative, some of the gameplay seems to fall short at first glance. Certain mechanics are introduced and then abandoned. Some mechanics seem to be designed with arbitrary limitations, something that I found particularly frustrating in my own playthrough. Hicks’ design choices reflect a preoccupation with resilience, and its challenges are not always meant to be fair. Many portions seem more deceptive than difficult. On this point, Hicks seems to break the fourth wall to encourage the player to press forward despite how unfair these obstacles seem. Once again, this is a feature which informs the narrative, but it holds no appeal to gamers who don’t care about a game’s themes or morals. It is also worth noting that the game is relatively short and could be cleared in a single sitting.
In preparation for this review, I was given a free review code. However, I plan on purchasing the game at full price for console. The Path of Motus does not try to appeal to everyone, nor will it. But in a post-Gamergate world, Hicks dares to remind us that, despite the harm that humans do, we are all trying to find our way through the forest, despite our varying degrees of success. It bears considering how abusive behavior arises, and whether our response to the harm done to us perpetuates that harm or mitigates it. Hicks’ lesson is a hard one.