Pheus and Mor: Beautiful, Emotional, and Yet Frustrating to Play
Pheus and Mor is an absolutely beautiful puzzle platformer, praised for its visuals, music, and overall atmosphere. Besides its excellent aesthetics, it also hosts a diverse playing experience that is top notch as far as free web games go, and a simple, yet moving story that is slowly uncovered as you progress through the game. While the game is beautifully crafted, and reviews are mostly positive, its ratings are actually quite lackluster. Below, we'll tear this wonderful game apart to find out why.
Play the Game
Try the game for yourself, and see if you can figure out why it would get great reviews but poor ratings. Would you agree with me that it's a beautiful game?
How It Plays
The game is quite simple to play. You control both Pheus and Mor, with WASD and the arrow keys respectively. Using teamwork, you'll help these best friends work their way to the goal in each level. Pheus can perform a running slide to fit into tight places, while Mor is capable of growling to knock down stone walls and large crates. There's a lot of switching between characters, but each character has their own keys, so switching isn't tedious as it can be in other games that use this switching mechanic.
One fault of the control scheme is that it shuts out AZERTY keyboard players, or at least makes it awkward for them. You'll also become slightly disoriented at times as your characters switch positions on screen, and you find your hands cross as far as which character they correspond to; luckily the game never requires twitch reflexes, so this confusion causes minimal annoyance.
It's worth mentioning that if Pheus even touches a drop of water, he drops dead and you have to restart the level; someone's mom really wasn't kidding when she told him he could play outside, but couldn't get wet.
Platform Games Need Solid Platforming
Much like a puzzle game needs great puzzles, a platformer needs great platforming. Solid controls and physics that feel right are an absolute must, whether the game calls for dead accurate, or completely unrealistic movement. Unfortunately for Pheus and Mor, the game is lacking in this department. This causes some serious damage - since the game is a platformer-puzzler, this means half of the core mechanics are quite weak.
While the controls complete the tasks desired by the developers, they often feel clunky, unresponsive, and aggravating. For instance, pressing Up as Mor (the dog) technically allows you to jump, but it's such a small hop that's it's silly to even make the mechanic available. When walking up a slope, your character will actually hop up in the air at the end of the slope, due to the physics engine. This makes for some annoying situations where you try to jump, but are already popped in the air simply from walking, often ending up with your character falling off a ledge or into a pit.
Puzzle Games Need Solid Puzzles
Much like the platforming aspects of the game, I feel that the puzzle aspect fails to be delivered properly. The entire game offers only 15 levels, but the real problem is that the “puzzles” don't feel like puzzles until level 11.
The first ten levels essentially just require you to use various mechanics back to back, in a linear fashion, which offers little to no challenge at all. This essentially leaves the player with only four levels that actually induce any thinking, which is a bit weak in my opinion - especially considering that each level only offers a single screen of content.
The mechanics used throughout the game are excellent - they really are top notch - but the way in which they're used definitely leaves something to be desired, at least for seasoned puzzle gamers.
Performance and Bugs
I never got the opportunity to test this game on my primary computer, as I'm working mobile at the moment, but from my experience, Pheus and Mor is not well optimized. I played the game on a slightly older laptop, but it still sports a dual core 2.2GHz CPU, which is definitely within the range of specs that web game developers should be testing for.
During my play - both on the web and locally (I downloaded the SWF) - I experienced frame rates as low as 6 FPS, with an average of about 20. This is far below the intended 30 FPS, and with Box2D physics at work on screen, it becomes quite apparent that things aren't running as they should. The game probably runs great on most modern machines, but when testing a web game (which ideally will be played by a range of people on a range of devices) it's absolutely crucial that only a very small percent of users experience game-breaking lag. That bar isn't being set high enough with this game.
In addition to the sluggish performance, there's a number of game breaking bugs that seem to occur from time to time. When using the debug Flash Player, I often found errors that would freeze the game related to Box2D collisions, some of which appeared to be custom library extensions from the developers judging by class names. While these kind of bugs are going to exist, I found them to be a bit too common, which will definitely irk players, resulting in bad feedback, both in reviews and ratings.
Visually, Pheus and Mor is among the most beautiful web games to be released in a long time. The graphical style is unique, and very professionally done. Effects can be found everywhere, and are as gorgeous as the detailed backgrounds.
And there is a lot of these top-notch quality graphics. There's little repetition in what graphics are used in level design, and there's even a lot of scenery change, which is almost excessive for a game of so few levels. On top of all this, there's also a lot of random assets that are strictly visual ambiance, and only pop up once or twice in the entire game, which really helps add to the polished atmosphere.
The audio, much like the visuals, is top of the line. There's a lot of variation in the background music; everything that should have a sound does have one; and every noise is of decent or better quality. Small details such as footsteps when walking really complement the small visual details, and help make the entire atmosphere of this game one quality package.
The audio also serves another great purpose, even if only for a few brief moments. The music at the end of the game really helps drive home the emotion of the story, and without it, it simply wouldn't be as strong. This has been a serious strong point for the most popular indie games, and it's becoming very apparent that striking an emotional chord with users, in any possible way, is a great route to go.
Pheus and Mor is one of the most visually and audibly polished web games I've ever played. It impressed me visually, audibly, and emotionally. This really is a perfect example of why you shouldn't polish the hell out of a game that isn't working amazingly at its core. If this amount of polish were to be applied to a game that is simplistic in graphics and audio, but amazing in fun factor, the results would be absolutely phenomenal.
It's a shame that the core mechanics of the game don't shine as brightly as everything else - though if they did, I'm sure my critique would be buried as one among hundreds on the net, as that game would be one hell of a hit. Luckily for us, though, it has its weaknesses, which are far easier to spot and analyse than the strengths of a game done near perfectly.