Pencil shaded horror that continues to make me ask “Hey Europe, are you okay?”
Sometimes it feels like every visual aesthetic under the sun has already been done in one game or another, but every time I start that particular line of thinking, a game like Mundaun shows up at my door to prove me completely wrong. Mundaun is a horror game from Hidden Fields, an indie developer out of Switzerland. It’s gotten a lot of attention since release mainly for its very unique pencil-shaded art style, and this combined with the fact that more obscure European horror can be a gold mine that isn’t taken advantage of nearly enough had me heavily interested in the game. Was I right to be interested, or did it turn out to be a dud?
In Mundaun, you play as a young man named Curdin who receives a letter telling him that his grandfather has perished in a barn fire. When the letter, written to him by the village priest, goes out of its way to point out that his grandfather is already buried and therefore there is no reason for Curdin to travel to the village in order to visit him, Curdin of course gets suspicious that there’s something else going on here. He travels to the small village of Mundaun to investigate, finding that his grandfather’s supposed grave is empty and his charred corpse appears to have fused with the burnt remains of his barn. This investigation leads Curdin to learn about the history of Mundaun, and the dark forces now at play within the village as a result.
Mundaun is a first-person horror adventure game that doesn’t really do anything groundbreaking in terms of gameplay; you can walk around the mountain collecting various items in order to solve puzzles or open doors that gain you access to new areas. These items can be things like keys or story-based items requested by the townspeople, but you can also find items that can increase Curdin’s stats. Curdin can make coffee to increase his resistance to the fear effect that monsters can inflict, bread can be eaten to increase the amount of health he has, and rifle manuals can be found that improve his ability to shoot. These skills will become absolutely necessary as you encounter the monsters of Mundaun, the earliest of which is an admittedly goofy but still quite threatening hay-covered creature that kills you by smothering you in hay. Monsters can be fought with a rifle or pitchfork, but it’s more likely you’ll find yourself sneaking around them seeing as Curdin is not a soldier and combat is intentionally quite clunky.
All of these creatures and characters are depicted using Mundaun’s greatest asset: its visual art style. Every texture in Mundaun was hand drawn using pencil on paper before being scanned into the game, and this makes Mundaun one of the most visually unique games I have ever played. This paired with memorable character designs and locations make Mundaun a place worth visiting. Unfortunately, the usual problems of porting a game to the Switch rear their ugly heads to take you out of the experience somewhat. The render distance for small objects around the environment is incredibly short, and you’ll often see things like posters or road signs pop into existence just a few feet in front of you. This problem also affects when shadows appear, which actually makes one of the first puzzles in the game a bit more difficult as it requires you to find an item underneath the town chapel’s shadow, which goes away when you get too far from the building. It should, however, be noted that this was only really a problem in that puzzle, and even then the puzzle is very simple to figure out; past that, the render distance issues are less a problem and more an annoyance.
There are a few other issues with the game itself worth noting that likely are not exclusive to the Switch version. The story is rather on rails, with the game often not letting you progress to a new area if you still haven’t done everything you need to do in the area you’re in. This does successfully keep the player from wandering too far from their goal and getting lost, but sometimes it did feel as though the game was actively discouraging exploration. Another minor annoyance I came across often is the fact that interaction ranges for objects is almost always either too big or too specific, causing me to constantly close doors instead of pick up the item next to the door or set an item in a storage location and be unable to pick it back up because I had an issue finding the exact area it wanted me to be in again. These issues are small, but they did build up. Not enough to ruin the experience, but enough to be a bit frustrating.
Overall, Mundaun is a very worthwhile horror title, even if it may be a little rough around the edges in some areas. The compelling story mixed with the game’s unique aesthetic is enough to create a memorable experience that fans of spooky things are sure to enjoy. That being said, I’m not entirely sure I can recommend the Switch be your vehicle to explore the town of Mundaun. The short render distance and constant shadow pop-in can be very distracting and does detract from the game’s atmosphere; a brief period with the game’s PC release seemed to indicate that these issues are unique to the Switch. If you’re really dead set for a portable version of Mundaun, the rest of the game is still very good tech issues aside, but I would recommend looking into other platforms if those seem like something that would bother you.