Wireframe

Mothmen 1966 review: a short but beautifully pixelated visual novel

By Lewis Packwood. Posted

It’s amazing what you can do with nine colours. LCB Game Studio deliberately limited the colour palette it used when creating Mothmen 1966, and the results are incredibly striking. Every screen presents a new piece of gorgeous pixel art crafted from a handful of shades, evoking classic 1980s DOS games or the golden age of the ZX Spectrum. It’s a calculated move to hit you right in the nostalgia glands – and it works, acting as a reminder that some of the most memorable and unique pieces of art are produced under the strictest of constraints.

Here, there’s also a practical reason for those constraints. Novelist Nico Saraintaris and illustrator Fernando Martínez Ruppel – who make up the Buenos Aires-based studio LCB – have come up with the concept of Pixel Pulps, short narrative games that embrace the ethos of pulp fiction. Like the paperback books, they’re designed to be exciting, pacey, and able to be quickly produced. Embracing pixel art is a means to an end, a way to churn out games at a blistering pace thanks to their simple graphics: LCB plans to ship three Pixel Pulps in the first year.

The tale of Mothmen 1966 is pure pulp, a schlocky sci-fi episode set in the backwoods of America, where the 1966 Leonid meteor shower has unleashed uncanny forces. You begin by following the story of Holt, a lonely gas-station employee who receives a startling visit from some mysterious men in black. Later, you switch to following a young couple who are battling through relationship problems, and later still a paranormal investigator is introduced, a sort of Mulder of the woods. It’s all very X-Files, a show that the creators say was a key influence, along with Hideo Kojima’s rarely played 1988 game Snatcher. As in Kojima’s early work, you’re often presented with starkly beautiful and sometimes shocking images, accompanied by dramatic writing.

The game itself plays like a visual novel, although visual short story would probably be more appropriate, since you can easily finish the whole thing in a couple of hours. Occasionally the dialogue is interspersed with a handful of simple minigames, like a variation on solitaire, but mostly it’s a case of clicking through text. Sometimes you’ll be offered a choice of what to do next, but there’s no branching narrative here. Choosing the wrong path results in death and a reset to where you left off, making decisions a simple case of trial and error.

The team at LCB have said they wanted to avoid multiple endings because the denouement of the game ties in with forthcoming Pixel Pulps, but the lack of divergent paths somewhat limits the replay value. It’s a shame, because the writing is generally gripping, and the story is a fun ride that goes to some weird, even ludicrous places. The final coda in particular made me smile. But I can’t help but think that the game’s slight run time and overall lack of interactive options is to its detriment. The pixel aesthetic is glorious, but there is little meat on these pixelly bones. I wonder whether it would have been better to combine the three planned Pixel Pulps into a more substantial adventure with more paths to choose. As it is, Mothmen 1966 is a fun one-and-done.

Highlight

The opening scene‭, ‬where Holt plays solitaire in a deserted gas station out in the woods‭, ‬features some of the best writing in the game‭. ‬It expertly conveys a sense of loneliness and foreboding‭, ‬which builds up to a brilliant reveal as some unexpected and‭ ‬unwelcome visitors arrive‭.‬

Verdict

Beautiful pixel art and an enjoyable story‭, ‬let down by short length and limited interactivity‭. ‬

70%

Genre Visual novel | Format PC (tested)  /  Switch  /  PS4/  PS5 /  XB X/S /  XBO | Developer LCB Game Studio | PublisherChorus Worldwide | Price£6.79 | Release Out now | Social @lcbgamestudio

From Wireframe store

Subscribe