The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories Review – Delightful Bits and Pieces

    Title: The MISSING
    Developer: White Owls inc.
    Release Date: October 10, 2018
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Arc System Works
    Genre: Puzzle/Platforming

The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories will often have you thinking, “wait a minute… what’s missing?” or “what’s going on?” It’s not that The Missing doesn’t deliver a full-fledged experience, but more so that you’ll find yourself eagerly wanting to find and solve every bit and piece that this grotesque and dark yet oddly beautiful puzzle platformer has to offer. If you were quick to write this off as just another Limbo or Inside, I strongly suggest that you don’t miss out on The Missing.

Handcrafted by White Owls, a relatively new studio led by the twisted minded director, Hidetaka Suehiro aka SWERY or Swery65, The Missing is the studio’s first title. Prior to White Owls, SWERY brought into the world two zany titles: a survival horror cult classic, Deadly Premonition, along with the episodic graphic adventure game, D4: D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die. Like SWERY’s previous titles, The Missing obviously has a mix of bizarre elements, such as the game’s core puzzle mechanic, but it’s a bit different due to its deep story and themes.

From the get-go, The Missing informs you that it isn’t a “hand holding” type of game. Beginning with two direct messages: “This game was made with the belief that nobody is wrong for being what they are” and “This game contains explicit content, including extreme violence, sexual topics, and depictions of suicide.” With these two messages, you get a clear idea of what’s in store for you as The Missing shares a heartfelt personal story that revolves around the themes of sexuality, identity, and relationships.

You step into the shoes of J.J. Macfield, a confused first-year college student. During her holiday break, she goes on a nice camping trip on the small Memoria Island right off the coast of Maine with her best friend Emily, who mysteriously goes missing during the night. With no clue to where Emily could’ve gone, J.J. goes on a mission to find her dear friend. Unfortunately, right at the start of J.J.’s search, she gets struck by lightning which then causes her to die in a flash. While this would be a “game over” for most games, a mysterious moose-headed doctor suit character comes by and all of a sudden, J.J. somehow regenerates — giving her the opportunity to continue her search for Emily. It is at this moment that you are introduced to The Missing’s strange, brutal, and inventive core puzzle mechanic: body mutilation and regeneration.

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The only way to make it across the quaint yet haunting Memoria Island to find Emily (and get donuts, J.J.’s favorite snack) is by having J.J. hurt and regenerate her body in various ways to solve an array of puzzles that focus on navigating environments and using physics. Some puzzle examples are having to light J.J. on fire to see or even burn obstacles that are in the way. Another example is dismembering J.J. to the point where only her head remains which gives you the opportunity to make it through a tiny pathway. Each time you have to inflict pain to J.J., you feel the agony that she’s going through. With broken bones, screams of absolute pain, and body parts being sliced in seconds — The Missing’s morbid core puzzle mechanic is twisted, it requires you to use your imagination, which makes puzzle solving rewarding, clever, and strangely enough — enjoyable.

Puzzles start off as relatively easy. One of the simpler puzzles has you picking up and throwing your dismembered arm to knock down a box that you can use to reach a higher area. However, puzzles do get increasingly more complex — requiring logic and creativity — as J.J.’s journey goes on. Like in one instance, you have to break J.J.’s neck by getting whacked by a wrecking ball to flip the world upside-down, which allows you to access areas you couldn’t get to before. Rather than being overwhelmed with too many puzzle mechanics, The Missing thankfully introduces its puzzle mechanics over time. The puzzles can lead to some head-scratching, at times, yet none of the puzzles will have you wanting to rage quit. While getting a sense of pride and accomplishment by solving puzzles is dandy, the story and additional gameplay elements are also worth praising.  

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The writing in The Missing is wonderfully done, especially with text message conversations. As you move forward in J.J.’s journey, you’ll get text messages that paint a picture of who J.J. is, the people she has relationships with, and the struggles she has faced in the past. With texts ranging from life advice given by J.J.’s conservative mom to fun, laidback texts from a college friend — text messages are a nice addition that helps flesh out not only J.J. but also the game’s other characters. Some conversations with friends can only be unlocked via collecting donuts, which can be difficult to obtain, but trust me, it’s so worth it to get all the donuts. Donuts also lead you to get other fun unlockables like new outfits, beautiful concept art images, and more.

Without spoiling why The Missing has a strong story — it’s important to know that there’s never a dull moment during the game’s narrative. The story is filled with suspenseful and surprising moments that will make you want to see J.J. through this adventure.

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While The Missing stays engaging and shines until the end, there are some slight control and puzzle gameplay issues. In a few instances, there can be a little delay when doing just simple actions. Actions like, spinning a lever around or even grabbing an object, aren’t always responsive and can feel clunky. As far as any puzzle issues go, what comes to mind is how some puzzles require backtracking multiple times. In addition, checkpoints can be a pain in the neck. After you die, you’ll often be brought way back to the start of an area, which then leads you to have to solve puzzles you solved moments ago. Despite these minor annoyances, you’ll still have a blast playing the game.

The Missing is a surprising game — in more ways than one — that you need to experience to truly understand what it is. With a horrifying adventure, a core puzzle mechanic that is disturbing yet brilliant, and a profound and heartfelt story — The Missing is one of those games that’s hard to forget.

Score:
8.5/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Brad Crespo

Editor-in-Chief - On a quest to play as many new games as possible while trying to finish an endless backlog.