If only the world was as rich and polished as the pixel art is.
Momodora is immediately striking from its incredible art design. I don’t think I’ve ever seen pixel art quite as gorgeous as what developer Bombservice has pulled off. Animation is incredibly smooth, with a ton of detail put into each character. The outstanding art is what originally drew me to Momodora, and I’m happy to say it’s consistently excellent the entire way through. Unfortunately, I wish i could say the same about gameplay. The highs in Momodora are very high, but the lows come a bit too often for it to truly excel.
Momodora takes place in the dying Kingdom of Karst, starring a priestess named Kaho. Kaho’s home has fallen under a curse that’s spreading across the land, and she finds that the curse can only be broken by killing the Queen, who has descended into madness. The adventure starts out as a fairly linear side-scroller but eventually opens up into a full Metroidvania. Ironically, I think the limited opening area is the best as the tighter focus helps the level design feel really solid. Things start to get hazy once the world opens up and allows for more free-form exploration.
Pretty much the entire map can be accessed as soon as you leave the starting area. This is both good and bad. It helps alleviate the brutal difficulty of the early hours. Kaho can’t take many hits when you first start, so if you can’t manage to beat a particular boss you can always double back and explore a different area. The downside, though, is that there are very few upgrades that expand the area you’re able to reach. Aside from fast travel and damage upgrades, the only new abilities you receive are an air dash and a morph ball-style transformation to fit through tight spaces. The air dash is almost never needed to get around, so there’s basically just one ability that actually matters for exploration.
The lack of exploration upgrades makes the already short runtime feel hollow. Without a tangible sense of progression from gaining new abilities and opening new areas, it never feels like Momodora has the chance to build momentum. That morph ball ability ended up being the very last ability I got, so I never felt like I really had more options to work with until I was already on my way to the endgame. It’s a shame because the core gameplay of Momodora is incredibly solid. Moving around as Kaho is incredibly smooth, and the precision platforming is made more engaging with a double jump that’s just good enough to give you some extra control without making it too easy to clear large spaces.
The Maple Leaf—Kaho’s unusual but clever weapon—also packs a satisfying punch, making combat extremely fun when combined with skillful dodges and dashes. Boss fights are also well-designed: even though they’re brutally difficult, their attacks are all clearly telegraphed. Dodging attacks and finding the right time to strike in between phases starts to come naturally once you’ve had the chance to learn the bosses’ patterns. If you die in battle, a save point is never far behind, so you’re never punished too hard for failing.
I’m very conflicted on this game. Momodora is incredible in many ways, and I feel like I can’t recommend it enough. It’s also disappointing in many ways, and I feel like I don’t want to recommend it at all. The act of moving around through the Kingdom of Karst is so well-tuned that I had a lot of fun running through hallways smacking monsters with a leaf. Unfortunately, at the end of the day Karst just wasn’t a very interesting place in which to spend time, and I felt myself wishing for a bit more substance. There is undoubtedly something special going on in Momodora, but sadly I never felt like I was playing anything more than an introduction to a larger game that doesn’t actually exist.