The Sun and the Moon

A game by Daniel Linssen for PC, Mac, PS4, Vita, and Xbox One, originally released in 2014.
The Sun and the Moon is an abstract puzzle platformer with a simple premise that is permuted upon in every conceivable way across the game’s 150 levels. The game began its life as an entry in the Ludum Dare 29 game jam, and was the winner of that competition. The game lives solely on its mechanics, offering no overarching narrative, a minimal color scheme, and a limited array of visuals that quickly communicate level elements to the player, making most areas very easy to parse.

The player controls a small orb that is able to perform high leaps from platform to platform. The primary dangers lie in coming into contact with spikes or falling off the bottom of the screen, either of which will kill the player instantly. That said, the player is given infinite attempts – as well as a quick restart button should he mess up or find himself in an unwinnable situation – and levels are designed to be completed in mere seconds, even on a first attempt.

The primary gameplay mechanic is the ability to pass into solid objects at the press of a button, and gravity is reversed while inside these objects. As such, jumping off of a high platform and phasing through the floor causes you to reverse direction and be flung upward, and this technique can be used to cross gaps or mount high platforms… and it comes to be used in a variety of clever and unique ways as the game progresses and offers more complex challenges.

Each level has three tiny orbs that must be collected, although these orbs are occasionally difficult to make out against the backgrounds given the low color range and their small size in relation to the overall screen resolution, which presents a very zoomed-out view of the action. The goal is to collect all of the orbs, which activates the exit, and then you must make your way to the exit, with time being the critical factor.

Each level has par completion times that encourage players to retry levels for the best rankings. The top ranking comes in the form of a sun, and this represents a near perfect run of the level, with many of top ranking times ranging between four and eight seconds. Achieving this rank is likely to require multiple attempts, as even a minor misstep will cause you to miss the par time. The second ranking is a full moon, which is nearly as difficult to achieve, and this is in place as an “almost made it” rank to encourage another go for the top spot. Finally, the third ranking is a crescent moon, which still represents a pretty good run, but skilled players may achieve this on a first attempt.

Often, players may find themselves spending 20-30 seconds working their way through a level and learning the best strategies for completing it more quickly, should they opt to return for a better time. Once a level is completed, it opens up adjacent levels on the level select screen, allowing the player to take them on in almost any order, or skip difficult levels to hold them for later.

The player begins the game confined to a single set of levels in the middle of the selection interface, but there are additional level sets placed in each of the four cardinal directions. However, these levels sets remain locked until the player completes a prescribed number of levels, even if the player does not achieve a ranking in any of them. A counter in the upper right shows how many levels have been completed and how many have been completed with a ranked completion time.

Levels along the side branches offer new color schemes and new challenge types, but levels are numbered so the escalation of difficulty remains clear, and locking off later levels means that the player is likely to have achieved the skillset needed to complete them by the time he is able to access them. Once all of the levels in a section are completed, a timer appears showing the player's cumulative completion time for the entire section (usually just a few minutes). The small size of the levels makes the game easy to play in short bursts while making a bit of progress each time.

The player earns no new abilities over the course of the experience but rather must use his abilities in new ways to overcome challenges. By falling from a great distance, the player builds up momentum which then translates into downward force when phasing into solid objects. This becomes upward momentum as the effect of gravity is reversed, allowing the player to propel himself high into the sky. Alternatively, the player must be careful not to build up too much speed and phase straight through the bottom of a platform, which will generally send him into a row of spikes or into the bottomless pit that sits beneath each stage.

The phasing and gravity reversal effects require the player to think differently about how to move through the environment than he would in a traditional platformer. Often, gaps are too large to cross and platforms are too high to mount by jumping, but the player may be able to run directly into a wall, phase through, and then pop out on top, or use his upward momentum to fling himself across a gap. But this action is subverted in levels where spikes are placed along the tops of platforms, requiring players to be careful not fling themselves too high.

Later levels introduce new elements such as moving spikes, continuously firing projectiles that must be dodged, and disappearing-reappearing platforms. In most platformers, disappearing platforms are a risk because the player can fall through them and be killed. That’s true here as well, but players must also be mindful of standing in a location where a platform is about to reappear, because this causes him to be phased into the platform and launched upward due to the reverse gravity effect. This may be used as an advantage to reach higher platforms, but may also be a trap in areas that have rows of spikes above these platforms.

Some areas offer boss-style encounters with a shadowy figure that pursues the player through the environment. In most standard levels, the player is able to take his time to figure things out – although he must often string together multiple successful maneuvers in order to reach the end – but in boss levels, the player must remain on the move or be killed. Boss behaviors are easy to understand, since they simply hone in on your position, but you’ll need to account for the boss’ path of travel as you move, stop, and backtrack across the level. In addition, bosses are able to pass through solid platforms, so there is nothing to prevent them from pursuing you to any point in the level.

The game is built around a bit of trial and error, since many levels feature platforms and obstacles that are outside of the player’s view when the level begins, and there’s no way to pan the camera around to see what lies ahead. That said, since levels are meant to be completed in mere seconds, the amount of repeated gameplay due to failure is low, and levels are meant to be repeated in order to achieve better completion times.

The Sun and Moon was developed by Daniel Linssen, developer of Roguelight, Windowframe, and Birdsong, among others. This game was Daniel’s first commercial release, and it was the winner of the Ludum Dare 29 competition, for which it was originally developed. Music for the game was composed by Dubmood.

The game was published by Digerati and Kot in Action Creative Artel. Digerati has published versions of numerous indie games, including Cubetactor, The Aquatic Adventure of the Last Human, Slain, Bleed, Bleed 2, INK, Nefarious, Skelly Selest, Straimium Immortaly, Joylancer: Legendary Motor Knight, Oniken, and Odallus, among many others.

Kot in Action Creative Artel formerly developed Steel Storm: Burning Retribution.