Snufkin: Melody Of Moominvalley key art

Review: Snufkin: Melody Of Moominvalley Review (Nintendo Switch)

Games don't get much more wholesome than this.

7 mins read

Ever since I read my first Moomin book as a child – I dimly think it might have been Comet in Moominland – I’ve been besotted with Tove Jansson’s endlessly fascinating Finnish trolls and their motley crew of quite literally fantastic friends and family.

The books have always been the core work of art that informed Jansson’s particular world, but that hasn’t stopped a massive array of Moomin products being produced over the years, from the obvious stuff like T-Shirts and TV shows, but also the more obscure.  To give that some perspective, amongst my Moomin-themed belongings, I own a pair of tiny sugar tongs with Hattifatteners on the ends of them, because, sure, why not (and if you don’t know what that refers to, then you need to read more Moomin!)?

Moomins have also had their time in the video game world, but usually with quite bland games, ranging from simple puzzles to even simpler Farmville style affairs. As much as I love the Moomins – and I’m admitting that bias upfront, so it’s as clear as it could be – it was very hard to love the Moomins games, all of which tended to be essentially games that happened to have Moomin characters stamped on them, rather than games about the actual Moomins. They lacked the melancholic and folksy surrealist soul of Tove Jansson, basically.

Snufkin: Melody Of Moominvalley screenshot

I’m using the past tense there quite deliberately, because Snufkin: Melody Of Moominvalley really does reverse that trend, telling a delightful, gentle story that’s 100 per cent in line with the way the Moomins are presented in the books and comic strips.

You play as Snufkin, who returns to Moomin Valley at the end of every winter, having travelled the wider world while his chum Moomintroll and his family hibernate. Only this time, the peaceful world of Moomin valley has been transformed, and not for the better. The river that runs through Moomin valley has been dammed, leaving much of the natural habitat parched – and what’s left beside that has been transformed into strictly run and trimmed down parks that lack the true charm of nature.

Snufkin’s not having any of that, being the Moomin world’s absolute expression of a free spirit, so he sets out to take on the park keeper who seems intent on transforming Moominvalley through some very gentle musical-themed puzzles, aided by a variety of familiar faces. Also Little My is there to snark at Snufkin, as well as seek out pirate treasure if there’s any going handy. She’s like that.

A screenshot from Snufkin: Melody Of Moominvalley

Gameplay-wise, Snufkin: Melody Of Moominvalley reminds me very much of A Short Hike, because it’s got the same gentle, explore-at-your-own pace ethos behind it. It encourages exploration, whether it’s just to find the game’s experience boosters or uncover additional pages of Moominpapa’s “masterpiece” play – or several other mostly-optional side quests.

There’s also a smattering of stealth here as you work to demolish the fabricated parks, avoiding the gaze of park guards bent on stopping you. None of this is going to give Solid Snake a run for his money, but then Snufkin’s sole act of violence in these parks is tearing up prohibition signs rather than snapping necks, anyway.

Snufkin isn’t violent and can’t be – that would be against the style of the books – and there’s some genuinely delightful ways around that which still allow the game to have challenge and interest. To give one example, early on, Sniff is terrified of a spider, because, well, it’s a spider. You scare the spider by enchanting a bird to fly at it, and then the Spider is angry with you because you’re bullying it.

Screenshot from Snufkin: Melody Of Moominvalley

What it wants is a butterfly, because it’s a spider, you see? So off I headed to get the butterfly, wondering how they were going to keep all of this non-violent. It turns out the spider wants the butterfly… as a friend.

I’m not going to lie here, I said “Aww” out loud when that happened, and it wasn’t the only time during my playthrough of Snufkin: Melody Of Moominvalley. It is something of a game for the fans of the Moomins, however; if you came at it with only a passing familiarity or none whatsoever, you wouldn’t quite get the same effect from the way that Hyper Games deftly winds different characters and their worldviews into the game. You also might not appreciate how wonderfully the art style and animation matches with the classic drawings of the Moomins. It’s minimalistic by choice, and all the better for it. I’m personally delighted there’s no voice acting, for example, because that way Snufkin, Moomintroll, Sniff et al all sound exactly like they do in the books when I’m reading them.

Snufkin: Melody Of Moominvalley is not a lengthy game, but (just in case it needs stating once more, sigh), the length of games does not indicate their real value. It’s a finely tuned work of art, and nobody complains that the Mona Lisa is just a little bit short, do they?

Screenshot Snufkin: Melody Of Moominvalley

It’s a delightful experience that shows the value of proper narrative scripting in games, building on the Moomin world rather than just using it as a prop for yet another tired tie-in genre game.

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Alex Kidman is an award-winning Australian journalist with more than 20 years games and tech writing experience under his belt. Critics have accused him of being a heartless and relentless word-writing machine, but this is clearly false. Alex will deal with those critics once he's finished his latest software upgrade.

  • I’m envious of your Hattifatterer sugar tongs even though I don’t use sugar. But at least I have a wiping cloth for glasses with Grokes on it and a bad pun.
    I’m glad the game delivers and there’s no hunting rifles in that one.

    • I’ve only played a demo of it from TGS, but even the small section of it I totally concur with Alex. This game is a sweet delight.

      My most precious Moomin treasure is a deck of Hanafuda cards I picked up from one trip to Japan. Can’t really use them to play (they’re made of softer stock than normal Hanafuda cards, so you just know they’ll wear away with use), but the art on them is such a fun blend of the Hanafuda designs and Moomintroll & pals all over. I should just get them framed.

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