Wednesday, June 1, 2016

PC Review #146: Mu Cartographer

Title: Mu Cartographer
Developer: Titouan Millet
Platforms: PC, Mac
Price: $5
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Lumino City. Papers Please. The Room. Deadnaut. Disparate genres, atmosphere, stories, and gameplay, all linked by a singular concept: tactile interactivity. More than merely pressing buttons on your controller or keys on your keyboard, they present you with dials to turn, switches to flip, panels to activate, turning the means of interacting with the world into a puzzle in itself. Mu Cartographer is perhaps the epitome of that idea, where learning how to discover alien secrets and landscapes is as much a part of the game as the discovery and exploration.
Mu Cartographer doesn't explain much. A mysterious device, a form of scanning console, with a slice of landscape in the center. The two sides of the game - the flat digital panel of dials, meters, switches and the circular window into a mysterious world - are inexorably linked; interacting with the console is your means to explore, and exploring gradually unlocks new means to interact.

But first you have to understand how to use the device at hand. You'll undoubtedly start with cautious inquisitive interactions, dragging and clicking each button and dial to see what it manipulates and how changing them affects the manipulation, and gradually what is a cluster of odd symbols and icons becomes something you understand. How one dial lets you zoom in and out, or move your central porthole across the land, or rotate the world, or perhaps even alter the environment itself.
With each twist and press and drag, the landscape shifts, dropping into steep canyons or impossibly jagged peaks, vast plains or rugged terrain, colors and hues shifting from grayscale to the blooming reds and yellows and greens and blues akin to infrared imagery. The world mutates with the satisfying fluidity that brings to mind clouds in the wind or a disturbed pool of water or the cross-sections of an MRI.

Seeing how your actions influence the land is enjoyable on its own, and endlessly gorgeous, but Mu Cartographer isn't merely an interesting piece of interactive art. There are secrets to be found, signs of civilizations amid the vast landscape, and perhaps by mastering the console, you'll be able to uncover more than just how to make the world look pretty...
Mu Cartographer is at once a gorgeous piece of digital art, a tactile puzzle to learn and master, and an an alien enigma to explore and discover. You can purchase the game on itch.io.

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