The highly stylized and bizarre titles from Hidetaka Suehiro, better known as Swery, are undoubtedly unique and tend to develop cult-like followings. While I have yet to play the episodic adventure game, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die; I did have the opportunity to review Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut, five years ago, which was highly influenced by the television series Twin Peaks. The Missing: J.J Macfield And The Island Of Memories doesn’t play anything like his recent titles, but does feature well-written dialogue, superb storytelling, and macabre puzzles waiting to slice you to pieces.
The Missing is presented as a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer featuring deathly environmental hazards. One night while camping on an island off the coast of Maine, J.J. Macfield awakens to find her best friend Emily has gone missing. With only her stuffed animal clutched against her body, you set forth through the nearby windmill lined flowery field during a fierce storm. J.J. has the uncanny ability to regenerate her body and limbs from almost any injury. In fact, it’s the key gameplay mechanic that you’ll need to use throughout. You’ll encounter numerous environmental hazards, such as razor-sharp spinning blades, pools of electrified water, and burning foliage.
Recovering from your injuries is as simple as holding a single button. Missing a leg, and you’ll hop around before tripping and falling to the ground. Of course, you can crawl around the ground; however, you can regain your limbs at any point. Losing your limbs isn’t just for effect either, as it is deeply ingrained into the puzzle solving. For example, at one point you become trapped in a semi-rural town’s bowling alley, and the only way to advance is to venture inside the ball return. Without a bowling ball, you must use the closest thing, your own rolling (and jumping) head. Taking damage while just controlling a head results in your actual death, although you’ll just respawn at the nearest checkpoint. If you happen to break your neck, not only is your movement slowed, but the world actually turns upside down, allowing you to access new areas.
A third example is setting yourself on fire, which results in your body becoming a shrieking fiery black husk, but allows you to set vines and shrubs on fire, opening previously blocked paths. It also comes in handy when trying to navigate through pitch-black corridors. The way The Missing incorporates these horrific scenes is entirely memorizing, although purposely injuring yourself is no laughing matter.
Similar to Playdead’s morbid platformers Limbo and Inside, the puzzles invokes a sense of trial and error to make progress. The game certainly wants you to struggle and figure out the solutions on your own, as it doesn’t provide any hints to any of the solutions. Exploration is vital and figuring out how to interact with the environment is a necessity. See sparks falling near vines blocking your path? Maybe you should search nearby for something that can be thrown and highly flammable at the same time. I did get stuck on more than a couple of the puzzles, but it wasn’t so much figuring out how to solve, rather than how to accomplish the task. Not to mention, failing and having to start over takes some time.
Although you are alone on the island, searching for your friend, you frequently receive text messages and mysterious phone calls. It’s an indirect way to advance the narrative, but the way everything is written is very fitting with a Swery title. Not to mention, you’ll come across a doctor with a moose head that talks about needing a blood transfusion and speak with your former stuffed animal through your phone. When you are not trying to stay alive, you’ll be finding delicious frosted donuts, 271 of them. Whether you are climbing up chains or leaping to hidden platforms, you’ll find them throughout the entire game. You’ll learn more about J.J.’s personal life by reading conversations with her various friends (or mother) via text messages. If you keep up with these exchanges, it certainly lessens the impact of the ending, although it is still quite an emotional ride.
The Missing uses a single button to interact with objects in the environment, as well as having J.J. call out to Emily. At times this can cause issues, as you want to grab the yellow outlined items, but instead, J.J. will shout in her search of Emily. You’ll also frequently have to turn cranks by moving the right stick in a circular motion, but it doesn't feel smooth. This can be increasingly frustrating when you are forced to act in a set time frame, either having to open a doorway before being caught by a monster, who wants to rip you limb by limb.
The Missing: J.J Macfield And The Island Of Memories is a heartfelt yet dark emotional tale, wrapped in a side-scrolling puzzle-platformer. It has macabre overtones, especially considering you are required to lose your limbs and at times throw them to dislodge objects to advance. There is a sense of poetry in The Missing, tying together emotions of death and rebirth. It’s quite an intense emotional personal tale, but outside of collecting donuts, there isn’t much reason to play through a second time.
Note: The Missing: J.J. Macfield And The Island Of Memories was reviewed based on a digital Xbox One copy of the game, provided by the publisher.