Michel Ziegler’s and Hidden Field’s gorgeous game “Mundaun” has been my biggest surprise of the year when it comes to horror games, so far. Set in the isolated municipality of Mundaun, somewhere after the first world war, we play as the lovely and kind Curdin who comes back to Mundaun after his grandfather died in a barn fire. Well, guess what, this is a horror game, so the fire was no accident and there is a big old curse on grandpa but also the entirety of Mundaun. Since Curdin is just a super nice bloke, it’s up to us to find out what happened and lift the curse.
Mundaun is entirely hand-drawn and looks gorgeous. If you go on the Steam page of the game, you’ll find some amazing videos of how Michel Ziegler did his research and how he adapted actual houses, art and a gorgeous church to the screen. Admitted, it took me a while to get used to the slightly crude drawing style and the sepia tones but they fit the game’s atmosphere which is always a little bit oppressive, like it’s not just the mountains looming over you. And they offer some moments of true beauty (and horror).
The gameplay is diverse, easy to adapt and a lot of fun. You have different ways to interact with the world, you can fight with different weapons (don’t worry, this is no shooter, so it’s just a few to chose your own fighting style) and you can even cook coffee which usually offers a great moment of zen.
Mundaun is an open world environment that is not too overwhelming but invites you to explore, level up (yes, that’s an option and it’s fun!) and solve puzzles, fight folklore monsters and take the story further.
Swiss folklore makes for a unique story
The story itself should be especially unique for non-European players since it is deeply embedded in Swiss fairy tales and folklore where devils can take on any form, animals might talk and humor is always part of a deal with the devil. The storytelling is stellar in Mundaun with every single detail adding to either the world or explain more about the story. Everything you find, hear and read has its place and makes it all the more enjoyable putting together all the pieces to solve the mystery. I would also wager that this makes a replay quite worthy since it will be interesting to see how the game’s storytelling puts everything into place when you know where it’s headed.
Opposed to many other indie horror games, you actually get to meet people and interact with them and be happy: not everyone dies a horrible death immediately after they met you (looking at you, Amnesia, Outlast and Resident Evil). The people of Mundaun are eccentric but not annoyingly so and provide plenty of charm and humor to the game.
Well-earned scares and plenty of beautiful enemies
Oh, but I was also mentioning monsters, wasn’t I? At the beginning I wasn’t sure whether the monster design really worked for me but since we don’t just get one enemy design slightly differing in size (something that horror games really like to do), we get a whole diverse range of weirdos who want to harm us in different ways. Each and everyone moves and acts differently which is a genius way to make sure that there’s a scary monster for everyone. Personally, the beekeepers took 20 years of my life but chose your own nightmare fuel.
Speaking of scary stuff: Mundaun is not just diverse when it comes to gameplay options and enemies but also when it comes to its atmosphere and scares. From sound effects, to a (gorgeous) soundtrack to creepy cutscenes, shadowplays up to horrifying imagery – Mundaun managed to scare me over and over again because it knew how to divert expectations, surprise me at the right time and create tension. It’s exemplary on that account because it is just as scary when you try to evade creepy hay monsters as when you follow shadows and sounds in the tight corridors of a bunker.
Last but not least, let me tell you why I don’t just like but love Mundaun: it has heart.
It makes a difference and it is noticeable when the writers/developers of a game really care for each and every character, when the protagonist doesn’t just act out of fear or purpose but out of kindness and when the humor is not sarcastically mean-spirited but offers actual release from the oppressing atmosphere of a cursed mountain village with charm and wit.
I loved Mundaun to bits and I can’t wait to revisit it at some point to discover new details and try out different ways to play the game.
If you want to see me bumbling, laughing and shivering through Mundaun, here’s the start of my Lets Play.