Mundaun observes some of the best, worn-out elements of the horror genre – a spooky environment, an emphasis on inventory management, and tons of puzzles to solve – and sketch them out on a living notebook that players can both admire and warp. Because of this, the game doesn’t do too much to set it apart from its horror contemporaries, nor does it fully reproduce the fun of that mechanic. But as I admire the rough sketch of a still image, I enjoy the finished product despite its rough edges. Mundaun serves as a respectable descent into insanity that has its fair share of disturbing moments.
The narrative takes players on an unsettling journey through a cursed version of the Swiss village of the same name. As the grandson of a retired soldier, return to the small mountain town to learn the cause of your grandfather’s mysterious death and to get more than you expected thanks to the presence of a malevolent being.
Much of the adventure is spent finding keys to open doors and generally solving solid environmental puzzles. None of the obstacles are really challenging, and the game will walk you through a few objectives, but they come in at least many different shapes and sizes. One puzzle asks the player to create the correct symbols on a series of wheels to open a gate, while another puzzle slams hanging plates of meat to (somehow) form the correct order of notes. Most problems are simply finding the right tool for the right job, but navigating the clunky inventory menu is a hassle. A certain amount of babysitting is also required in order to progress. The game isn’t auto-saving as regularly as you’d expect. So if you don’t manually save regularly, you can easily lose 15 to 20 minutes of progress when you die, which can put things down.
Mundaun’s surroundings serve as a half-open junction where players gradually climb to the top of a mountain, either on foot or with a somewhat unwieldy hay collection truck. I enjoyed exploring the world of charcoal and uncovering clues and clues about building lore. Mundaun also rewards thorough exploration with upgrades to its three character branches: health, weapon handling, and fear resistance. Things are generally fine during the day, but exploring at night brings up a limited range of enemies for players to avoid or (eventually) confront. I recommend sticking to stealth as the shooting game isn’t great and fending off ghosts with a special lantern is less effective than it should. Fortunately, confrontation is completely optional. You can complete mundaun without hurting a soul.
Mundaun’s pencil-drawn art style gives the game a unique and effective visual identity. The experience is best described as a spooky sketchbook brought to life, with coarse charcoal strokes and scratches that look cool and give Mundaun an eerie feel to it. Everything just “looks” and I regularly found my hair piling up if I stared at a strange looking face or a creepy photo for too long. The graphics are enhanced by the stilted animations that actually work in favor of the game. These crudely drawn characters don’t look like they’ve been rendered fluid, so the choppy animation adds to their “living work of art” quality.
The forbidden atmosphere managed to keep me up to date; I’ve only experienced a few major jumping scares, but they work because they’re not overused. I found the puzzle exciting enough to pull me forward, and the story is easier than I expected. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; Sometimes it’s easier to appreciate those scary moments when you’re not trying to solve an intricate puzzle. In the second half of the game, players can control the narrative to some degree with a small handful of dial-controlled dialogue options. They don’t harm the narrative, but the choices are straight to the point and feel pinned on.
With a creepy vibe, solid gameplay, and intriguing narrative, Mundaun is a good time even if it won’t blow horror veterans away. Well worth finding out if you want to experience some good scares and see the evil art direction in motion. Much like its aesthetic, Mundaun becomes a crude but respectable portrayal of some of the best horror games in the genre.