The debut game from indie Turkish developers Proud Dinosaurs really wants to be a dramatic character-based puzzle-platformer, but a spate of control quirks and an overall lack of cohesion interrupts its best intentions. Squint your eyes a little and it might look like a fever dream version of the Trine series, but Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey is even more laborious to play than its title is to read, and fails to deliver a similar sense of character, wit, or wonder.
Meet the Australian bilby, a small rodent-like marsupial also known as a “rabbit-eared bandicoot” (no relation) who lends the game its title from the name of its genus, though that’s as far as real-life biology factors into Macrotis’ gameplay. No, the game is instead quite intent to spin a tiresome and saccharine yarn that never aligns with its ideas, but that story amounts to this: you’re a mother bilby separated from her children during a rainstorm and are trying to find your way back to them. Unfortunately, an overflowing river thrusts you away from them and further down into a network of tunnels.
And that’s when you, uh... kill a wizard. Seriously. While Mother Bilby was spelunking through the caves and looking for a way out, a wizard was apparently standing above-ground and trying to defeat the storm through some unspecified mystical means. One shattered crystal later and he lies dead, crushed under a pile of rubble, but offers to lend the bilby his powers to defeat the storm and get back to her children, in that specific order of priority.
There would be little need to place such emphasis on the storytelling in Macrotis, if not for the fact that it seems insistent to regularly dole it out, with clunky writing and even more ungainly voice acting souring the deal. “I need to go up,” she muses to herself during and Macrotis’ area, before summoning the bizarre sentence, “Why is this place always going down?” With a puzzle game, it’s not absolutely necessary to tell the most artfully constructed story but, when it’s this bad, it’s probably also best relegated to skippable cutscenes.
Macrotis is a 2.5D platformer, with players able to jump, climb up ropes, push blocks, and later engage in a few weird magical abilities that increase in complexity along with the puzzles. Unfortunately, none of these mechanics ever fully cohere, make sense, or feel satisfying to experiment with. For instance, there’s a meditate function that allows a ghost-like spirit duplicate to go off and interact with the world within a limited range, all while Mother Bilby balances on her tail. The ghost has “Casper qualities,” in that they are ethereal, but can also grab blocks or levers, but can otherwise “die” from hazards. Nearly every function, whether it’s climbing over a ledge or transitioning back from ghost mode triggers a few seconds of pointless animation, adding a sluggish methodical quality to the controls that are further compromised by areas that would be easier if the character was slightly more agile. Later on, you get the ability to build short walls, which can interrupt the physics of the environment, except when they’re not allowed to be built on a specific surface for some arbitrary reason.
This is not to say that Macrotis mechanics feel completely randomized, but they just never gel together. Blocks tumble when falling, and can actually roll into an undesirable position, but there’s very little Trine-styled jostling since your character’s movements are so measured and stilted. This makes it even more irritating when specific puzzle rooms ask that you complete an objective under a time limit, when the basic movement controls are specifically designed to hamper this style of play.
The result is a puzzle game that feels extremely limiting, and rarely if ever offers room to explore its inner workings or simply play with abilities, and rooms always have a single solution meant to be performed with precision. If you get stuck, you can press a button to reset the room (this is strangely easy to trigger by mistake), which causes Mother Bilby to drop to her knees in sorrow before a dramatic fade out, a weirdly crushing image that never feels quite right. There’s also no mid-puzzle checkpointing, so rooms that take much longer to get through will require you to replay tiresome early portions over and over. Even worse, it’s often hard to intuit if you’re actually facing a no-win scenario, which results in minutes spent re-checking to see if a puzzle is doomed or not before starting over again.
The graphics in Macrotis are similarly jumbled. The individual characters and scenery assets look fine, if lacking a certain recognizable sense of style, but they’re all tossed and splashed onto every cluttered room, making most of the game look like the equivalent of a hoarder’s apartment. Certain screens look lovely, though, like one where a waterfall emerges in the hazy distance of a cave, but most others are just explosions of mushrooms and leaves, or clock gears and cobblestones, all gleaming and glowing but lacking the feel of a grand design.
Some games are greater than the sum of their parts, while others, like this one, take some decent ideas but can’t piece any of them together. Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey only takes about 5 hours to complete, but the ratio of well-crafted puzzles to busywork during that time is quite low, and the repetitive and embarrassing dialogue demanded a trip to the settings screen to disable voice — it doesn’t help that certain retries prompt the same insipid conversation every single time. The best puzzle games push players to daydream about their interwoven mechanics during waking hours, but Macrotis’ lack of polish and coherency interrupts those intention.
Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey is out now on Steam for $9.99. A digital copy was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.