Journalist Leonas Kairys arrives by rowboat on a mysterious island. Rumor has it this place was once the base for human experimentation, where WWI soldiers suffering from PTSD were treated with a potential new cure. But suddenly everything went silent, and Leonas wants to write his breakthrough article to explain what happened. In roughly four gaming hours, RunByCoffee’s horror-lite, side-scrolling Mythargia weaves a very intriguing narrative yarn that will make you feel like Leonardo DiCaprio on Shutter Island if it was designed by The Duffer Brothers. Not every element works as well as others, but the game certainly kept me glued to the screen with its creepy tension and beautiful yet very often disturbing pixel art graphics, with hanging skeletons and body pits and hellish red color schemes.
Mythargia is available on PC and Switch; I played the former, where you control Leonas with the WASD or directional buttons. You can hold Shift to run, press the Spacebar to jump, and you’ll have to climb as well. At first the game seemed to require a decent amount of dexterity to skillfully maneuver around obstacles, because Leonas can’t really jump all that high or far, but then I realized you just need a running start. This last detail was missing from the tutorial, which is otherwise well-integrated into the island’s backgrounds, with the possible actions explained on a couple of signposts you pass by during your first explorations.
You arrive at night, stars overhead, the water rhythmically splashing against your boat and the shoreline. The sound diminishes when you walk away, rising again upon your return. You may often find yourself startled by birds taking flight from between the bushes. Melancholy music surrounds you, a single oboe audible in one area, a pianist twiddling away in another, their compositions following you wherever you go. Fog envelops the night, moonlight revealing a path often blocked by large trees. Wind howls through the ruins of buildings overrun by plants, nature taking over what mankind abandoned, with only a couple of skeletons left behind.
You venture into the heart of the island in search of ever more clues, and it’s a dangerous expedition. You’ll be afraid to walk to the edge of your screen, because you never know what might be lurking just out of sight. But dangerous does not mean difficult; there are some easy arcade sequences to fight off enemies, but for the most part the focus is on uncovering the truth through exploration, a couple of fetch quests, and logic puzzles where you need to follow cryptic directions that won’t take you too long to figure out.
Your objectives are clear as you progress: hotspots pop up as you walk through this world, showing how you can examine evidence or objects, take photos, enter doors, or write journal entries. Because of Leonas’s rather rapid walking pace, it’s easy to miss some, however, so take your time exploring Mythargia. It’s all about discovering the story, slowly filling in this narrative puzzle, so don’t hurry towards the ending but make sure to investigate all corners to get the most out of the experience.
The photos you need to take (“Kodak moments” are indicated with a camera icon) and the entries Leonas writes in his journal (a squiggly line icon) work as hidden collectibles, but in this game you actually do more with them than simply scratch them off your list. The overall goal is to compile a six-part newspaper article, which needs a high credibility level to pass, as measured on a scale from 0 to 100. Your credibility level rises or drops with every choice, so you’ll have to try to find the optimal layout for your article.
Whenever pieces of your article remain blank, that’s an indication there is still evidence to collect, be it a photo or a journal entry. After collecting enough, according to the instructions you should be able to combine photos and text yourself, but it seemed to me they were always attached automatically so a lot of the work was done for me. As a result, the whole process lacks enough freedom; not even all the photos you’ve taken will be available to choose from.
There would seem to be lots of potential for the final version of your article to lead to a different ending, but really there are only a couple of possible conclusions. You either construct a decent article suitable for a prestigious newspaper, or you compile one only worthy of tabloids. (There’s also a bad ending possible in just a few seconds after starting the game, which I thought was immensely funny.)
You move through several locations on Mythargia, starting on the beach, traversing an abandoned town, and bumbling around a graveyard before finally reaching the sanitarium. Sometimes you can enter houses, the church, a barn, or even a tomb, and in the sanitarium you’ll move from room to room. You can explore these places freely, searching in all nooks and crannies for the source material for your article. The game tracks the photos and diary entries you’ve collected with a numbered system that may seem out of order if you don’t follow the expected path, but there’s really no set sequence in which you need to discover them.
You have an inventory in which you carry keys for locked doors, health kits and plentiful extra batteries for your flashlight. You can get injured, or even die, from things like falling off cliffs or rooftops (I felt so stupid when that happened; twice!) or walking into bear traps scattered in the woods. Fortunately the traps clearly signal their presence with a metallic slicing sound that also grows louder the nearer you get, and a flicker in the dark when the metal catches the moonlight. There’s an on-screen health bar to keep an eye on, so you can heal yourself when needed. And there’s no need to conserve bandages and possibly get caught unaware, as you’ll end up with more than you’ll ever need. When you whip out your flashlight, its battery life joins your health indicator as a second bar, this one rapidly diminishing. But you don’t really have to use it other than to dispel the horror movie creatures, so you should be able to make any single battery last a long time.
At regular points during the narrative, you’re transported to another dimension, a hellish environment that resembles “The Upside Down” if you’re a Stranger Things fan. This alternate world is set in the past, so the skeletons you encountered in your own dimension are once again living and breathing NPCs, including some former townsfolk, and both staff members and their patients at the sanitarium. You’ll have to talk to them and perform fetch quests, usually retrieving evidence of what happened to their loved ones. Once you’ve helped the relevant person stuck in this nightmare world, you return automatically to the real one to continue your investigations.
Not all inhabitants of the parallel world are benign, however. Blood-soaked humanoid creatures stalk you, leaving you just enough time to disperse them using a UV-filter on your flashlight. Of course these creatures can harm you as well if you let them get too close, which might happen since they often tend to surround you. But after the first attack, you’ll quickly get the hang of it and they become more of a bother than an actual challenge. Sometimes you can even ignore them and simply walk away.
Mythargia only has an autosave function but checkpoints are frequent, usually during screen transitions like entering or exiting a building or room. Since it’s a rather short game anyway, which can be finished in one or two sittings, this time the lack of a manual save option didn’t really bother me. I only had to reload a couple of times, after I stupidly fell to my death and when the creatures killed me, and I respawned very close to where I perished.
There are some small puzzles, like figuring out in which order to light a set of torches, and how to restore power to the dilapidated asylum. Clues are hidden in signs, epitaphs and plaques, and you often have to read them really carefully. One puzzle involving entering opposite doorways (left or right) in the nightmarish version of the sanitarium took me several tries because I missed an element in its cryptic description. The in-game font can be hard to read, though, both in documents and dialogue text. I had trouble identifying the spaces between words, more so because the English syntax isn’t entirely up to scratch, either. Thankfully you can enable the “alternative font view” for an easier-to-read popup of the text. This is a very handy feature, since the game isn’t voiced and you truly have to read everything.
The moment you reach Mythargia’s shores, you’re pulled into a weird world where nothing is what it seems. You may think you’re going to uncover a conspiracy, but instead you’ll stumble upon something even stranger. The gameplay might be a bit jarring at first for players not used to actions like jumping over obstacles and vanquishing enemies, but rest assured the learning curve is very slight. It would’ve been nice to make the actual writing of your newspaper article a bit more interactive, since it’s supposed to be the ultimate goal of your journey, but exploring the island, roaming the sanitarium, and talking to the other characters to slowly unravel the narrative puzzle pieces is loads of fun, especially when playing after sundown to further enhance the game’s already effectively creepy nighttime mood.
You can’t help but feel like a true conspiracy theorist exploring the beautifully eerie pixel art world of Mythargia with all its mysterious supernatural elements. As a journalist in search of clues about secret human experiments, a bit more control over how to compile the evidence into your article would’ve been welcome, but collecting it all feels very rewarding along the way.
- Classic pixel art style fits the mood and setting
- Intriguing mystery challenges you to find all hidden “collectibles”
- Haunting music accompanies your interdimensional travels
- Alternative text view makes for easier reading
- Newspaper article construction is too streamlined and underused
- Hotspots can be easily missed as you speed by
- Some light action sequences might put off more story-focussed gamers
Johnny played Mythargia on PC using a review code provided by the game’s publisher.