Famed videogame director Swery65 has always been best known for his projects that err on the weird side. Deadly Premonition became a cult classic last generation thanks to its utterly bonkers tale of Greenvale and its inhabitants, while D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die is another wacky soap opera that will unfortunately never see the light of day on the PlayStation 4. Next up on his plate however, is an entirely different ordeal. The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories is a much more personal tale that strikes at the heart of themes and topics that some people may unfortunately feel the need to keep to themselves. This is an expression of emotion, and it’s by far Hidetaka Suehiro’s best work yet.
Just off the coast of Maine, two lovers spend the night together camping on Memoria Island. Emily and Jackie Jameson Macfield, the playable character, dream of spending the rest of their lives together, but once Emily disappears in the middle of the night, everything they discussed is brought into question. Jackie must set out into the unknown and face the perils of the island in order to save her girlfriend.
A simple love-fuelled premise gives way to so, so much more. Shrouded in mystery for the majority of the experience, the game keeps you guessing at every turn with hints and nuggets of information here and there that help to bring the plot ever so slightly more into focus. That is, until an utterly phenomenal conclusion delivers a twist that sheds light on a whole new perspective. It’s a beautiful revelation that puts a completely different spin on things, as well as one that works in tandem with the text messages you receive as you make progress. After exploring a strained relationship with her mother, the issues that she faces holding a bond with Emily, and the day to day struggles of her friends all via the written word on a mobile phone, we came out the other side with a great deal of admiration for Jackie as she deals with some of society’s most prejudiced stereotypes. All in all, it makes for one of this year’s most angelic tales.
And that would be perfectly fine on its own, but The Missing takes things a step further by tackling themes and subjects that most video games would normally shy away from. We’re not going to spoil what they are because they have a direct impact on the narrative that’s told, but we were most definitely caught off guard and thoroughly impressed when the ending’s realisation took place. The message behind it all is incredibly positive and progressive for society as a whole, and it’s wonderful to see a video game tackling it in such an excellent manner.
With an unforgettable plot to play host to, it’s a pleasure to report that the gameplay that ties each thread together does just as good a job of keeping you invested. Played from a 2D perspective, you’ll become wrapped up in some simple platforming and puzzle solving, with a solution at the end of each that takes you one step closer to finding Emily. However, that’s only half of what’s going on here.
Jackie has the ability to dismember herself, and at the hold of a button, put herself back together at a moment’s notice. This mechanic works its way into both platforming and puzzle solving in a variety of different ways, and neither is any less gorier than the other. Slice an arm off so that you can throw it at a hanging box to detach it from its perch, sever an artery in order to reduce your weight, or shrink to the size of a brain in order to climb through the smallest of holes in a wall.
On top of that, getting hit by a blunt object flips the world upside down. This adds a whole new depth to brain teasers when you need to think of the environment as it is and then once its been flipped 180 degrees, and how that’ll effect the objects within the location itself. The puzzles themselves never become too complicated, but later challenges combine the two mechanics to offer the toughest of tests.
Experimentation really is the name of the game here, with a surprising amount of bloody uses for your limbs to be found. It turns out an arm makes a great replacement for a brick, while setting yourself on fire may be much more useful than you might think. It’s certainly a unique mechanic, and thankfully it pays off by making the experience all the more better. Although, if you’re a little squeamish, one or two animations of Jackie’s head popping back into place may have you running to the bathroom.
A single playthrough will span roughly six hours, with a second go at it incentivized by further text messages that add more context and details to the narrative. As well as that, 271 collectable donuts can be uncovered through exploration of each and every environment. With the majority found off the beaten path, a reward for locating a large sum of the ring-based treats at once results in more text messages to read.
Rounding out the package is a mesmerising art style. The stylised backgrounds and character work animates wonderfully on-screen, while ambient music sets a dark and sinister tone. It’s a contrast that works well in motion, and it goes a long way to making the experience all the more memorable. Unfortunately, though, one aspect we can’t forget is the game’s performance. Constant hitching and framerate issues make one or two sections a rather jerky affair as the title fails to keep up with what’s happening on screen. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, but it is the area that lets down the experience the most.
The Missing: J.J Macfield and the Island of Memories marries its remarkable storyline with memorable gameplay mechanics to form a truly exceptional and meaningful experience. No matter which walk of life you originate from, there’s a monumental amount of positivity to take on board from Swery65’s latest masterpiece.