Review – Mountain

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first began playing Mountain. In starting the game I was asked to draw three pictures prompted by keywords such as ‘brother’, ‘soul’, ‘love’, etc. A mountain was then generated. My artistic skills being somewhat lacking, I wondered what effect this had had on the mountain. As it turned out, I couldn’t say for certain it had one at all.

Mountain is a game about… well, a mountain. It sits suspended in mid-air, rocky root and brown earth exposed, a pleasant mix of trees, plants and mushrooms dotting its green surface. Time and seasons slowly cycle by. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it snows. Sometimes clouds shroud its peak from view.

Mountain_4_©_David_OReilly_2014I spent a few minutes examining the mountain every way I could think of. By clicking and dragging, I found I could rotate the mountain on its axes so as to view it from whatever angle I liked. Using the scroll button, I could zoom out far enough to watch the mountain spin in space, nestled within its own little bubble of atmosphere. Unfortunately, zooming in wasn’t quite as impressive, meaning I could view the mountain up close but with no greater detail than from a distance. I had kind of hoped to see leaves blowing in the wind or pine cones dotting the ground.

Every so often, a chime would sound and the mountain would share a thought with me such as, “I am comfortable in this charmed night” or “I wish I had someone to tell about today”. These little insights seemed as though they were trying to be profound but most I simply forgot about as I continued exploring.

Poking random keys on the keyboard didn’t seem to affect the mountain but it did reveal a mini piano. This provided me with a good half hour of entertainment as I slowly banged out every nursery rhyme I could remember the notes for (plus the ubiquitous Chopsticks).

It wasn’t until I played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and suddenly night descended I started to wonder if there was any relation between my simple musical attempts and the mountain. Playing Good King Wenceslas resulted in it starting to snow and I got excited, thinking I had stumbled upon a way to “talk” to my mountain. A laborious rendition of Summer Holiday had no effect, though, and I realised with disappointment I had been reading a bit too much into what were some neat coincidences.

Mountain_2_©_David_OReilly_2014At this point I had discovered just about every game mechanic, so I began creating my own silly entertainment. I would zoom out until I was in space, then click and drag my view around so that it looked like orbiting bits of debris were crashing into the mountain, accompanying this with dramatic narrative provided by myself. Then I would zoom in a bit and try to navigate the same debris around the mountain without touching it, like a steady hand game.

After all that, I started to run out of things to do. So I reduced the mountain from full screen to windowed mode and pushed it to the side while I worked and browsed the internet. My three-year-old daughter would occasionally wander past and gleefully announce the current weather conditions of the mountain or that it was “sparkling”, as night descended again and the fireflies came out. Every so often I’d hear the chime of a new thought or the choral swell of another day dawning but I didn’t look across it at very often.

Until I heard the impact.

At first glance, the mountain looked just as it always did. A few clicks and drags later revealed a film canister buried in its side.

That was different.

Over the next five hours a bunch of random objects of varying sizes came hurtling through space and embedding themselves in the mountain; a park bench, an umbrella, an anvil, a chair, a Frisbee, a jack-in-the-box and a roll of toilet paper (to my daughter’s hysterical delight). By this stage I was pretty much ignoring the mountain, only checking it periodically to see what new objects may have arrived since I last looked.

Eventually, I decided my day was over, said goodbye to my mountain and closed the window.

I’m still not sure what exactly the purpose of Mountain is. Creator David OReilly, for whom Mountain is the first foray into game-making, has remained silent on what the intent of the game is, deliberately leaving it up to the individual to find meaning and entertainment in whatever way they want. Much debate has erupted over this; from what the “true meaning” of the game is to whether it can even be called a game.

Since Mountain seems to be pretty much whatever you make of it, I decided to share my experience with it exactly as it played out, in hopes of demonstrating what the game involves without imposing any particular narrative. Mountain doesn’t have an explicit goal. It doesn’t progress and has no end state. It just is. Maybe it’s an art piece by the creator or a canvas for your own art and narrative or even a bite of the thumb to those who want to argue what is and isn’t a game.

Whatever it is, it’s at least worth the 99c asking price.Mountain_8_©_David_OReilly_2014

You can find out more about Mountain at mountain-game.com.

Disclosure: A review copy of Mountain was provided to ind1e.com by Double Fine Presents.

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