Finding the sun is harder than it sounds.
When you were a child, did you ever think the sun went away at night and came back during the day? What if the sun didn’t come back? That simple, childlike thought is the entire premise for developer Turtle Cream’s recent Wii U puzzle/platformer eShop game, 6180 the moon. The hook of the story, however, is that the moon itself realizes the sun has disappeared.
Upon first glance, 6180 the moon appears to be an extremely simple and noticeably “indie” (read: strange) game. However, it took me less than a minute to realize it was not so much a simple game, but rather a simplex one.
The very idea of the game itself is simple; using the GamePad, you maneuver the moon through each 2D puzzle-infused level while avoiding spikes until you reach the goal. As you conquer each level, the moon floats further toward the center of the Solar System in search of the sun. However, 6180 the moon’s brilliantly unique mechanic of jumping between the screens of the TV and the Wii U GamePad presents a new, fun, and challenging way of enjoying puzzle games.
Describing 6180 the moon’s featured double-screen mechanic in words is honestly a little difficult. When the player jumps, the moon leaps far above the upper boundaries of the TV screen and, in doing so, its momentum is carried over to the GamePad’s screen, and vice versa. Due to the two-way nature of this mechanic, the two different screens are not simply stacked on top of one-another, but rather on top and below the other in a continuous loop that never ends. For example, the moon can fall from the TV screen to the GamePad screen and then continue to fall from the GamePad screen back to the TV screen.
Initially, the ability to play with this mechanic is just as nebulous as trying to describe it. However, 6180 the moon does a great job of intuitively explaining the mechanic through gameplay over the course of just a few levels, and switching between the two screens quickly becomes second nature. Although I frequently became disoriented on some of the more difficult levels, I found that I was able to quickly get reoriented once again after slowing down and focusing on each screen before my next attempt.
As you might expect, the difficulty of the levels generally increases as you delve deeper into the game. Each region of puzzles is designated by an astronomical body as you move closer to the center of the Solar System — the moon, Earth, Venus, Mercury, and the sun — and each of the five regions contains ten levels. Luckily, once you have cleared the initial 50 levels, you unlock mirrored versions of each one in “moon rising mode,” launching the total number of levels to 100. These mirror levels not only force you to solve each puzzle from finish to start, but upside-down with reversed gravity, making them truly feel like new, advanced levels for the most part.
In 6180 the moon, new regions not only bring fresh levels, but also new challenges. Each time you become acquainted with a region, you encounter new puzzle mechanics, such as disappearing block platforms, moving platforms, and bouncy platforms. As another welcome feature, most levels contain one or more checkpoints after the more difficult portions, which helps keep the frustration to a minimum once the difficulty increases.
While the difficulty ramps up with each increasing level, albeit slightly inconsistently, some puzzles are pretty straight-forward and simple. Others are downright mind-boggling. Although the best levels are extremely fun and well-designed, the majority of the levels — while still being decent and inventive — fall short of greatness. One of my only complaints about the levels themselves is that they seem to be a bit short; just as most levels begin to get exciting, the end seems to sneak into frame a little too early. Fortunately, the final region’s levels eclipse the others in terms of fun and complexity, ending the game on a good note. Furthermore, while a bit of the game’s difficulty is derived from figuring out the puzzles’ solutions, the greater mass of challenge is found in the levels’ required timing and precision-based platforming, making for a space-venture that engages your reflexes as well as your mind.
When it comes to controls, 6180 the moon keeps a tight orbit to the tried-and-true simplicity of 2D movement: the left analog stick moves the moon and the “A” button makes it jump. Unfortunately, there is no option to control the moon with the D-pad, instead relying solely on the analog stick for movement. This missed opportunity is sure to be an issue for some gamers who strictly prefer the precision afforded by the D-pad for 2D side-scrollers. As a side note, the game unashamedly admits to adopting the fan-favorite floaty, highly controllable character movement of Super Meat Boy in combination with a low-gravity, super-high jump.
The presentation of the game is simple by design in a manner similar to Thomas Was Alone. The moon is represented as a glowing orb, while the platforms and spikes appear as archaic squares and triangles which could probably be replicated in a lower resolution on an Atari 2600 — minus the glow and particle effects. Conformingly, all game objects are colored white and the background is appropriately colored black with tiny, floating, firefly-like particle effects resembling distant stars. Each region, however, displays a slight color tinting to the background to add a bit of distinctive character. This visual presentation is clean and pleasing to the eye while adding to the game’s sense of purposefully misleading simplicity.
The overwhelming tone of the game is relaxing and introspective, which is largely attributed to the game’s musical score. While each region and menu features its own theme, all of them are appropriately ethereal and atmospheric, lending them well to the game’s simplicity, sense of innocence, and space setting. Most of the delightful tracks are composed of lingering synth chords behind light melodies of piano, with a hint of stringed instruments and soft drums for a little extra flair. While it has become more and more common for indie games to have fantastic original soundtracks, 6180 the moon’s is right up there with some of the best of them, although the lack of variety among the game’s relatively short list of tracks might keep it from taking home any awards.
Sound effects are used very sparingly throughout the game, as may be appropriate for a game set in the vacuum of space, foregoing any noise for the moon’s movement or jumping. The few sounds that are in the game are nicely implemented as piano notes which harmonize in pitch and key with the music. As a nice extra touch, sound effects that take place on the GamePad come through its speakers, while audio triggered on the TV screen play from the TV speakers. Although I enjoy most of 6180 the moon’s simplicity, I feel like more sound effects could be added to make the game slightly more enjoyable. I also believe that a sound effect for the moon’s movement could have been a useful audio cue in complex levels when the player’s eyes are on the other screen in anticipation of where the moon will land — a small issue, but an issue nonetheless.
Keeping in line with the deceptively simple philosophy of the rest of the game, 6180 the moon’s story is sparse and short, but entranced players will find that it boasts a very creative plot involving a seemingly naive and juvenile moon on the hunt for the missing sun. Along the way, he holds surprisingly philosophical conversations with the personified planets, which all have distinct personalities and side-effects from the wayward sun. Similar to games such as World of Goo and Thomas Was Alone, the narrative of the story is told from a third-person perspective and with massive heaping of character. Particularly captivated players will gravitate toward the story’s underlying themes of the precious innocence of childhood and the nobility of being kind and helpful beyond necessity. Along with the meditative tone and atmosphere of the game as a whole, the cerebral story can evoke deep, metaphysical reflection if you are keen to it. With all of the great story considered, the in-game English text unfortunately comes off as a bit amateurish — likely do to the developer’s roots in South Korea and a small budget.
While 6108 the moon is available on other platforms, its fullest potential is realized in the Wii U version. With Wii U, Turtle Cream was able to take advantage of both screens, dramatically elevating the game’s enjoyment as an interesting concept to a truly engaging and fresh take on the 2D puzzle/platformer genre. With this obvious fact in mind, Turtle Cream was able to create new levels unique to the Wii U version, as they recently told us in an interview. Specifically, not only do the two screens divide the player’s attention in a fun and challenging way, but the additional screen presents a supplementary part of the level that does not exist in the other versions. Although the developers admit the unique implementation of both screens was risky, I believe it certainly pays off and results in the Wii U version of 6180 the moon being light years ahead of the others.
Even with a whopping 100 total levels, their brief nature and wavering degree of difficulty results in a relatively short playtime for most gamers; I was able to 100% the game in approximately two hours while playing fairly casually and jotting down notes. Turtle Cream was able to work-in a handful of achievements to squeeze out a little more playtime, however I thought only one of them was very difficult to earn. Although I found no particular reason to revisit the game after beating it, which is to be expected with most puzzle-based games, the cheap asking price of four bucks on the Wii U eShop is a stellar deal for those interested in taking 6180 the moon for a one-of-a-kind orbit around the inner Solar System.