Moss: Book 2 Accessibility
Moss: Book 2 is an enjoyable adventure title but comes with a strong lack of onboarding. Subtitles feel nicely embedded into the playable space, but there's not much in the way of drawing the player's attention to hints or points of interest. Additionally, controls can be a confusing feat with having to control Quill while also operating other elements with motion control.
Score5 out of 10
- Shader to see the protagonist through walls
- Subtitles built into level design
- Glowing hints for some actions
- Quill sometimes indicates a puzzle is completed, or points to a hint
- Levels are in small enclosed spaces
- Some puzzles provide items that stand out
- Traversing requires a deal of verticality from physical movement
- Lots of ledges to fall off
- Little onboarding for new players
- Controls can be overbearing
- Some actions required aren't clear
My first introduction to Moss on PS VR was when the videos of Quill, the protagonist of the game, doing American Sign Language were doing the rounds. That representation, even as a rusty British Sign Language user had me wanting a VR headset, but I never made the plunge. Since then, things have changed, and so I was excited to jump into Moss: Book 2 on the PS5 and check out what’s in store for accessibility.
Booting Up, Starting Up
Moss: Book 2 does not contain any form of accessibility or settings from start-up, and I was thrown straight into the intro which is an interactive title screen. I’m sitting at a desk with a glowing DualShock 4 controller with orange flashing triggers, showing an animation indicating I need to open the book in front of me.
I see a glowing blue orb, my cursor essentially, and I move the controller around physically with motion control, reaching out toward the book. I pull and hold the triggers and open the pages. The narrator begins to tell the story.
It is possible from here to open a menu to see the Settings, but there’s not a whole lot there. For this reason alone we haven’t done our usual Menu Deep Dive feature. What I see are subtitles, voiceover languages, and volume sliders. Those wanting to remap buttons can’t, and the game requires a DualShock 4 to even start the game due to the lightbar feature.
Lack of Onboarding
One of my frustrations with Moss: Book 2 is how it begins on the assumption that the player has played the first game. There’s a controls menu that details the control scheme, but if I’d not have attempted to pause the game I’d have not seen this screen.
The game lacks any form of button prompts from the start, having me go by instinct on how other 3D platformer games are designed. This is terrible for me particularly as I’m a new VR user right now. With no useful guidance, I just wander around spamming buttons until something works, and only then do I understand a successful mechanic.
Developers shouldn’t leave the basic control schemes down to assumptions from a previous title or genre experience. Instead, players should be guided, even if that’s only for the starting sections, or at all times if desired.
Moss: Book 2 could have implemented prompts in the same style as subtitles, having them appear in the visual and actionable space. That’s not to say that the game has no tutorials at all. Later in the game, I unlock the ability to grow climbable foliage and walkable bridges and a pop-up window pauses the game to teach me the feature.
This tells me that Ployarc was only thinking about introducing new features to players from the existing title. In doing so, potential first-time players who may have skipped the title from 2018 are left out and left to figure things out.
Another example comes down to how studios shouldn’t assume things are clear. I stumbled across some red thorny branches that caused damage when walked into. Clearly, these were to be avoided. After spending a large chunk of time wandering around the level unsuccessfully trying to figure out where to go, I discovered, only through frustrated sword-swinging, that the branches can be slashed.
There are no options for various positioning setups such as sitting or standing, meaning that there are no complimentary camera features for those who want to limit their physical body movement. I played Moss: Book 2 cross-legged on my bed, while other players are free to position themselves standing up.
Throughout the game, I feel as if I’m looking down at a tabletop structure. What’s presented in front of me is the only playable space with no areas hidden off to the left, right, or behind that can be accessed by Quill. Having everything tucked into this slighter-less-than 180º space does help for seated sessions, and in addition, when moving to new areas, there’s a fade to black transition.
It could be my apparent tolerance to VR at the moment, but I rarely feel queasy when playing. However, the chromatic abbreviation is heavy. Edges of anything in the game world that aren’t central to my view have strong red and blueish edging making everything feel warped.
After some research, the presence of this feature apparently helps players retain their understanding that it isn’t the real world. However, I did feel discomfort after prolonged sessions, and with no way to turn it off —if that’s even possible on VR games— I just had to take frequent breaks.
Subtitles Here and There
Moss: Book 2 does have subtitles, and I actually found them to be fairly well-done, although, there are various areas in which they are iffy. Before I jump into the iffy, let’s focus on the good.
The text is thick and set against a dark background box that appears directly in the playable space. Because of this, there were no issues with depth perception, instead if felt like I was simply reading a sign in the level. Some VR titles have floating subtitles that track the headset movement, but I always feel dizzy because of the depth perception.
As you can see below, the text box is physically part of the visible space, stuck in position.
Now for the iffy. Text boxes fitting into the visual space don’t always work. Some placements feel too far away, requiring me to lean in closer to read them clearly. Other placements may have some foreground elements overlapping which does mess up the depth perception.
Additionally, due to the narrator-reading-excerpts-of-a-book-to-the-player style of play, subtitles are sometimes presented in more than two lines that feel like book excerpts rather than actual subtitles with timing and attention to line breaks. Furthermore, speaker labels aren’t available, instead, just like in a book, the narrator reads, “Said, Quill,” to indicate who spoke.
Where Are You, Little Mouse?
Despite the game being played from a standing or sitting position, there are some levels in which I feel as if I have to physically stand to get a better view of higher sections of a level. I could reset my headset position to be higher, but then areas where Quill becomes obscured lower down work against me.
Thankfully, if Quill does end up being obscured by the environment, she’ll become highlighted and visible.
This is a pretty nifty feature, but where it lets me down is through the level design that forces physical body movement. I assumed that the areas where Quill goes out of view would have been designed with minimal obstacles, but that wasn’t the case.
In one section, I can’t figure out what was stopping me from progressing. Begrudgingly I stand up a touch and see a wooden barrier and a ledge I had to climb across. Other areas in the game have breakable pots blocking my way.
In the screenshot above, Quill can be seen in combat with a crab, but she’s not highlighted because she’s still visible to some degree. This is where I found the feature to be problematic in that it doesn’t always show where she is because the assumption is that the player will, or can, lean over. The number of times I had to stand up from my seat felt like leg day for VR users.
As mentioned, a lot of controls were figured out through experimentation, In general, I find Quill’s controls to be nice, with it feeling like a simple isometric platformer with running, jumping, and climbing. However, the addition of the DualShock 4 motion control on top doesn’t feel as complimentary as I imagine it’s meant to feel.
I enjoy the moments in which I can stop controlling Quill and focus on moving elements like blocks and forming climbable foilage with the DualShock 4 motion control and triggers. It’s when it starts requiring both control inputs to be active that I struggle. Trying to hold a swinging platform in place with my arms outstretched, holding the triggers, and trying to use the left stick to position Quill and activate the new dash power is…a lot.
There’s also an issue with perspective. Depending on where the headset position is set, there may be ledges that aren’t clear, and with no ledge detection, I kept falling off everything unless I got higher and got a more top-down perspective. In saying that, there is very light ledge detection when walking across bridges crafted by the player, and I would have liked to have seen that apply to most ledges.
And then there’s another feature I struggle with, and that’s controlling enemies. I’m able to grab them and direct their movement to help with activating buttons and such. The thing is, grabbed creatures can only be controlled by holding the trigger and moving the DualShock 4 controller. I’d have much preferred a way to have Quill’s controls switch so I could control the creatures with the sticks instead of motion.
Directionality, Hints, and Frustrations
The general feeling of entering each playable level in Moss: Book 2 felt like reading a book, more often than not Quill would enter stage left, and exit right. This helps me keep an understanding of where to expect Quill to be each time. Sometimes this would change up, though and I’d wind up confused with the occasional emerging from the center.
Additionally, levels in which Quill is further away from my position felt irritating because nothing felt clear at that distance, and I didn’t particularly want to keep getting up and leaning a bit closer.
The puzzles on some levels don’t really offer hints. One level found me skipping some blue lamp structures because I thought they were just world design. It wasn’t until I got to the exit and saw branches blocking the way that I backtracked, accidentally hit one, and then realized that was the goal. While I appreciate this can open up experimentation and urges exploration, having clearer hints is always a win, even if it’s an optional feature.
The lack of hints doesn’t mean there are none at all. Sometimes a glowing blue controller appears performing a movement to copy. Bridge starting points glow with a blue orb, and there are large glowing blocks that can be moved through motion control. Quill also helps out sometimes, pointing in the general direction of the next step.
Of course, again, being directed to more subtle things would be useful. Poor Quill stood there waiting for a high five at one point while I struggled to figure out why she wasn’t moving, and in the screenshot above, Quill stood holding the sword up in the air for ages until I realized I had to hold the crystal.
Quill comes across a number of enemies that she either has to fight alone or can have me physically help her. While I can control Quill with the controller, attacking and parrying, I found myself getting too overwhelmed by some situations.
When I decided to physically move my controller to grab an enemy to give Quill some breathing room from a projectile firing crab, I then had to hold that enemy while also controlling Quill to battle other enemies. Granted, this wasn’t the ideal way to play, perhaps not even intended, but that’s how I dealt with those situations.
Really, despite sometimes being a bit too involved —controlling Quill and also using the controller physically for motion— combat felt somewhat fluid. Enemies take a few hits before being killed and there’s a small window to figure out when to parry. There are no health bars for either the enemies nor Quill, instead when health is low, the entire lower edges of the visual space glow and slowly pulsate red until health is restored. I wasn’t much of a fan of this effect lingering.
There are various things to collect in the world of Moss: Book 2 and some of these are sent to the backpack. Honestly, I can’t tell you much about this as I’ve only discovered some outfits. What I will say though is that accessing it comes from the touchpad, and then you have to aim the controller to activate the items.
I found this not only complicated to control but also to see things clearly due to the lacking contrast and glowing effects.
Return of ASL
As I opened this review, the ASL representation in Moss was what got the original game on my radar. Not having played that game, and only seeing some videos online, it appeared as if the little mouse was using sign language a lot. Fairly chunky sentences were being delivered by the tiny protagonist.
In Moss: Book 2, I’ve played a fair number of hours and am yet to feel like I’ve seen a good deal of sign language being signed, at least not to the extent the original appears to have. I did see at least one sign — which is when Quill signs “Twofold” at the start— so there are signs there. Any future interactions felt as if they were too far away to determine if there was signing taking place or just general body language.
While the very presence of ASL is a huge positive to see, outside of that I wasn’t seeing as much communication between Quill and myself as videos of the original seem to indicate. Perhaps I needed even longer with the title, perhaps I was too busy reading subtitles and missing the action.
Moss: Book 2 does not have any options for accessibility outside of subtitles, but the gameplay contains some useful features by design. The glowing guides can be useful when introducing players to new features, but the assumption that players have come straight over from the 2018 original and offering no simple onboarding makes first-timers’ experience rough.
It really does feel as if the game has been designed with no player variation in mind. The lack of remapping, for example, and no offering for toggles and holds make the experience feel less engaging, and in actual play can feel overwhelming.
A review copy of Moss: Book 2 was provided by the developer / publisher.