Moon Goon is an Inform game by Caleb Wilson.
You immediately start in a life-threatening position, with your head clenched so tightly between the jaws of a statue that your head might rupture any moment. The protagonist, however, appears not the least bit ruffled. Apart from being able to look around as casually as if she were not trapped, the protagonist bears an attitude of apathy that is manifested most clearly in the account of her own situation, which she describes as “quite the predicament”. The detachment that such an understatement conveys is also seen in the opinions she ventures. In particular, when she asserts that “some unpleasant soul has erected a shrine to Zollok here”, the phrase “some unpleasant soul” carries an unmistakable tone of irony that, given the urgency of the situation, is grossly out of context. After having played three relatively light-hearted Ectocomp games, almost all of which verged on comedy, I was prepared to hear a similar voice in this one, and the introduction, as seen, only reinforced that belief. But to describe the voice in Moon Goon as goofy would be an overgeneralisation, as much of the remaining prose is filled with rich surreal descriptions that are largely responsible for the bizarre, otherworldly flavour of the game.
One of the game’s most defining features is its use of invented words that are integral to not just the story but to its narrative style. “Worldplasm”, for instance, is explicitly defined as a damp, glowing substance that is the “stuff of decayed souls”, and is a central element of more than one of the game’s seven endings. “Fingerbeams”, in comparison, is less of a technical term that plays an important role in the plot than a metaphor employed to enrich the prose. And enrich it most certainly does. My favourite line is: “A perfect example of your favorite type of pastry, a specialty of the bakers on Theodolite Road, the seleno is a wondrous sphere of thin crisp laminated layers, baked the bloodgolden hue of a harvest moon.” Particularly noteworthy here is the invented term “seleno”, which apparently is a prefix derived from the Greek word “selēnē”, meaning “moon”. The introduction of an invented word that doubles as a metaphor for the pie can only be described as deft; this is clearly an author who is practised enough at writing to bend the language to his will. The liberal use of both the former and the latter techniques lends the piece a distinctly fantastical voice that yet manages to catch itself from straying into ambiguity, defining the more obscure terms where necessary.
On the topic of wordplay, we see another notable example in the name of the protagonist, “Moon Goon”, after which the game is named. If I were to treat this game as a standalone story, the name “Moon” seems appropriate given its applicability in real life and its associations with, well, the moon. The protagonist does seem to have an affinity for the moon, which is described unsarcastically as “your beloved moon”; one of the endings terminates with the line “the moon shines down on you, and for once, it doesn’t seem to care at all about your fate”, which suggests that the moon is viewed by the protagonist as a living, breathing entity capable of reciprocating her feelings for it. Separately, “psalm” seems like an intentional anagram of “plasm”; as the plasm is all around us, the significance of such an anagram, if it really were intentional, might have to do with the pervasiveness of religion, and the way its hymns permeate all aspects of our lives. There might also be some link to the curious “blood+” in the plus/plasm near-homonym. Or perhaps the “+” symbol serves as a way to differentiate the blood that appears in the story from what we might easily dismiss as a common trope.
On the whole, this is a piece that succeeds spectacularly at its writing. Most games with a good eye for detail stop there; this game goes beyond that to deliver a plot that engages its players, and that keeps in line with its theme at the same time. Moon Goon had the most unnerving ending of the games I’ve played so far. The last sentence of the first ending is: “Faceless enforcers drag you to your new home, the Church of Zollok, where many cruel statues patiently wait.” The associations of the word “home” with family and sanctuary, and the way the game forcibly imposes an unwelcome definition of said home on the player with the direct address “your”, contribute to a sense of inevitable doom whose agony is implicitly but unambiguously implied in the final clause, a clause which, in turn, only works the way it can because of earlier, equally atmospheric descriptions that built up to this moment. I think the four-hour time limit may have in fact been more of a blessing than a curse in the sense that it capped the richness of the descriptions, stopping them from being overwritten. Regardless, the fact that all this substance did not compromise on the fullness of the plot on top of being accomplished in four hours is extremely impressive.
ICE CREAM FLAVOUR: Bubble gum. One of my favourite flavours. What lies beneath its blue and pink stripes gradually reveals itself instead of unleashing its secrets all at once, yet amazes just as much, if not more.