Wits must he have who wanders wide, For all is easy at home. At the witless man the wise shall wink, When among such men he sits.
So ends Munin after thirteen hours of tricks and tenacity, and I’m all the better for it. Munin is a puzzle game in which you play the titular character Munin — one of Odin’s crows — who, according to Nordic myth, travels the globe each day with his brother Hugin to report all that they have seen and heard.
In a cruel trick by Loki, you’ve been cast into the body of a rather dour-looking human and your memory scattered throughout Yggdrasil in feather fragments. Munin sees you bedeviled throughout nine realms, each with a number of stages inspired by locations within Nordic legend, in search of your memory.
Munin is quite minimal in its presentation. Opening with a short poem (based on the poetic Edda, a collection of heroic ballads that serve as the primary source of Scandinavian mythology), each area is presented in a semi-animated watercolour style that provides a certain ambiance to the stage without being too distracting. Whether traversing the spiritscape of Hel or the frozen wastes of Niflheim, each area captures an austere mood very much in tone of the epics on which they’re based.
Each area introduces a new mechanic which must be used, in conjunction with rotating parts of the stage, to collect all the feathers. This is hindered by the fact that rotating one section will usually rotate another as well, and that you cannot rotate an area you’re currently in. Working out the correct configuration to allow you to traverse the stage and let, say, water flow to fill unpassable pits or reflect light is particularly rewarding.
For the most part, this works really well; the areas never wear out their welcome, and just as your growing deftness starts to inspire boredom, Munin whisks you off to another area with a new mechanic to get your mind working again.
However, Munin definitely has some issues. The first is the controls for Munin himself – while rotating the stages is typically responsive, there’s an impreciseness to Munin’s movement that will occasionally have you fail to jump at the right moment or get stuck on ladders. (It’s almost as though you’re a crow clumsily masquerading as a human, isn’t it? I just gave you a narrative reason for tank controls, Daedelic. You’re welcome.) The penalty for failure is death, whereupon you start the stage again. This typically isn’t such a big deal — except in one notable instance.
You see, Munin does a great job of encouraging experimentation. This is often necessary, as you’ll find yourself twisting the level indiscriminately to gain insight… or just hope something happens because OH GODS I AM SO STUPID. Because each stage is designed with just the right amount of difficulty, you hardly ever “luck out” of a situation — Munin does a great job of making you feel like a genius when you eventually solve a stage.
However, there is an area just prior to the last — which involves reflecting “negative light” around the level whose touch is instant death — where this is completely turned around, and the smallest error results in instant failure. Given that this particular area is one of the most finicky in terms of your position and the length of the stages, it combines with Munin’s jankiness to be an immensely frustrating experience.
The last area also reveals what might have been for Munin, as it’s the one place where every mechanic is combined into some really fascinating puzzles; it makes it clear that the theme they went for obviously fettered them in their ability to combine the mechanics as they went, but I don’t think I can fault them for it.
As it stands, I rather like Munin, sometimes in spite of itself. Reading the little Nordic vignettes interspersed between each stage was a nice touch, the visuals have a certain charm to them and the game offers a reasonable challenge for those looking for some spatial mental gymnastics for the price.