You’re walking down a dark alleyway. The walls are full of mould and damp, streetlight buzzing and flickering in the coolness of night. As you walk, you feel someone’s eyes, watching you. A figure melts out from the shadow of a wall, surprising you (you do a little shriek and feel quite embarassed). The figure is far too tall, and is wearing a large trenchcoat. As you step back, he whispers in a gravelly voice, “Hey mate, you want any itching for more? I got TONNES of it”. He opens his trenchcoat, your eyes growing wide. Beneath his coat, you see that he is simply altgames stacked on top of altgames, shifting and moving. As if suddenly set free, they burst forth, trenchcoat flapping in the wind, floating gracefully into a heap on the poo encrusted floor. Altgames surround you on every side, more and more every second until you are drowning in them. You hold your breath until the tide fades and walk slightly faster home.
This week, on Itching For More I’ll be looking at walking simulator Mura Toka.
There will be spoilers in this piece, be warned ! ! ! !
Mura Toka is the latest game from Triias, a one man studio run by Moshe Linke. Linke’s games in the past have been largely dictated by his almost obsession with brutalism. They have almost exclusively featured huge concrete structures, towering off into the distance. Whether they were abandoned sprawling machinery littered across a distant rocky planet or a focused linear exploration of a cityscape, Moshe Linke’s games have always excelled in creating an atmospheric experience, making you feel small in a huge landscape.
Mura Toka is interesting then, in that it is a dramatic departure from Moshe Linke’s previous works. Initially, at least, the grayscale landscapes, the huge sense of scale, most of the brutalism has been brushed under the carpet. In the place of buildings there are trees, mixing a palette of reds, blacks, purples, blues and greens to create a delicately beautiful island, an orchestral soundtrack slowly fading the further you venture into the island. As well as all of this, Linke renders everything in a low resolution, which is a beautiful addition to the piece.
As you explore the island, a day-night cycle slowly takes place, trees transforming into luminous green as you stumble across ancient artifacts, glowing on the dim island. In addition, old structures are found occasionally, each with a distinctly brutalist feel — Linke’s signature. Once the second night appears, you are transported back to the entrance of the island. However, everything has changed. Mura Toka transforms from a relaxed island exploration to an anxious landscape of towering grayscale skyscrapers, uncomfortable music assaulting you as you begin to re-explore the landscape you thought you once knew.
This transformation then begs the question — is this before, or after the first scene. Both answers give different meaning to Mura Toka. Let’s discuss this:
This is perhaps the most obvious answer — the scene in question comes last in the game and contains the structural landmarks of the first scene. If interpreting this as after the natural island, Mura Toka becomes a game about deforestation — a harrowing warning of the imbalance of nature upon the earth. Every scrap of green was sucked out of the island, turning it into a harrowing landscape, one that sucked the life out of the island. If we interpret the time the player is alive in each scene as their life, then it too sucks the life out of you — surviving only 1 night.
We must also not forget the alien artifacts and the role they play within Mura Toka. What do they symbolise? Perhaps they are the human touch upon the landscape — in this case the start of the city, an immediately unnatural and worrying sign.
However, if we interpret the scene as perhaps a prologue to the more natural island, Mura Toka’s message is one more sombre. Instead of humanity taking over from nature, it is one of nature taking back from humanity — one that nature will endure, will take back what it rightfully owns. One that despite what havoc humanity may wreak upon nature, that it will claw its way back, trees becoming as plentiful as the buildings used to be. Humanities stain may always be visible — left behind alien artifacts and bizarre structures, but nature will reign supreme.
Mura Toka then is a battle between nature and humanity, between trees and skyscrapers, between colour and gray. Who will win?
Mura Toka is pay-what-you-want, available here.