I am a monster.
There’s really no other explanation. On the screen bidden by my controller’s prompting, J.J. Macfield struggles to her one remaining leg and stands up, swaying. Grasping her severed leg, she gamely hops slowly toward the makeshift bridge balanced precariously on a crate. She throws the leg to the far side, and the plank dips down, but not far enough. It needs more weight. Grimly at my direction, she hobbles back, falling pitifully several times before throwing herself on a bed of spikes. Reeling back and falling to the ground, she picks herself up, then grabs up her now severed arm. Inching torturously back to the plank, she throws the limb, and this time, it is enough, the plank dips to a level where she can cross. At the other side, my button prompt triggers a bright flash of light around her, and she is whole again. For now. Until I do this to her again. Or worse.
This is the challenge of Swery’s new game, The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories. Some of the environmental puzzles we are used to seeing in a side-scrolling platformer will appear here, but the only tools the player is given is J.J.’s regenerating body. She cannot die on this island, but oh how she can suffer. Each limb can be separated from her body, and ghoulishly she lives on. She can be reduced down to a rolling head that can get through extremely tight spaces, but of course then she can’t jump. With a press of the button, J.J. can be transformed whole, but her severed limbs will disappear from the environment, and Hidetaka Suehiro (Swery) has fiendishly designed the game to require her limbs to be in play separately from her body.
Not only must the player participate in J.J’s dismemberment, but some puzzles require electrocution, falls from great heights, being smashed across the screen, set on fire, and in one ingenious puzzle element, concussed which lets the player play the world upside down. Playing this game, I felt the strange uncomfortable mix of guilt but yet dark humor as J.J.’s twisted ragdoll body flew across the screen again and again. That uncomfortable laugh, have you ever experienced it? I did a lot as I played. I have never been so delightedly uncomfortable.
At a cellular level, we are conditioned to react in self-preservation to escape harm. Our fingers begin to move away from the source of flame even before the pain signal has reached the brain, and the return signal from the brain to move comes back. Swery flips these evolutionary reflexes and asks, how much will you endure, how much will you let J.J. give up to keep going?
This is the crux of the challenge of The Missing, wrestling with your conscience as you inflict unspeakable torment on a digital character to progress in a video game. Maybe this game won’t affect you as strongly as it did me, maybe it will affect you more.
But I for one can’t wait to push past my comfort level to play The Missing October 11.
The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories was developed by White Owls and published by Arc System Works and will be released October 11, 2018 for PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PlayStation 4