In a world shaped by your thoughts, negativity can spell disaster and not everything is immediately as it seems. It is here that Librarium Studios put us into the shoes of Juul and give us the task of helping her through her anxiety and depression. We guide her story through a series of puzzles embedded in beautiful artwork.
Available on itch.io and Game Jolt, The Müll Littoral is a traditionally illustrated, Flash Player adventure bright with a cavalcade of atmospheric colours. Most everything has been hand-painted on paper, breathing life into a strange world of emotions, magic and the interactions between them — a world founded in previous title The Eigengrau Menagerie and now improved upon.
We meet the protagonist Juul at a beach, staring out to sea alone. While it may look peaceful on the surface, madness lurks beneath the waves for those who fixate on it too long. This is a fact that an unwanted guest is quick to bring up, convincing a reluctant Juul that they will be able to help her if she agrees to travel with them. This is where the story begins, with Juul drawn out of her comfort zone and encouraged to look beneath the thin veneer of peace that covers her life.
Looking beyond the obvious is where the puzzle element of The Müll Littoral comes into play. When Juul finds herself in a dangerous situation, or a situation in which more needs to be revealed, she can use the goggles she wears to resolve things. A painted scene unfolds through the visor and time pauses, giving you time to plan your actions.
There are two phases to this: the first stage, where you have as much time as you need to examine the area by dragging a lens over items of interest; and the second stage, where you must react to events in real time by selecting the right objects when needed. It’s usually obvious how items can be used, as their descriptions are quite intuitive, although sometimes you can miss an item in your initial search or get stuck over the timings. But whether you fail the first time or not, you get as many attempts as you need and there is a hint option tucked away in one corner.
The second stage is where the action happens, with characters reacting uniquely to the situation, providing just enough hints with their movement to make second attempts succeed where firsts failed. The objects you select are manipulated by Juul’s thoughts and moved by her will, knocking things over and changing the strength of the wind. There are other puzzles too, seemingly smaller but taking more time and thought, each unique to its own scene and appearing as something akin to code-breaking. One can be a frustrating case of trial-and-error, but all are doable.
Most of the story progresses in dialogue between the characters, which besides advancing the story does a good job setting the scene as well. It is through dialogue, through the interactions between Juul and the distinct people she meets, that we see her develop and grow as a character. Sometimes these developments can be a bit on-the-nose, with a couple of occasions where the dialogue feels over-the-top with triple exclamation marks or full capitals, but is generally good overall.
The Müll Littoral was designed to present the battle against anxiety and depression as a hero’s journey, showing the growing strength of Juul and people like her as they head toward their goal. It’s a journey and transformation that can be witnessed throughout, at many points likely to connect with people who have had similar experiences. Emotions are played upon throughout, through the art style, text appearance and thematic music alike, leading to poignant endings.
The font, while sometimes hard to read, is well utilised to dramatic effect. Its appearance changes depending on the character speaking. It flickers and turns red as anxiety takes hold. All this adds to the atmosphere of the moment, although the text is consistently let down by mixing up the words ‘its’ and ‘it’s’, which may be jarring to some.
Juul doesn’t have to follow a prescribed fate, however, as there are two endings to choose between. You can experience both without having to replay the entire story, not that it would take too long, by using the act select screen from the main menu. Each ending has its own message and each grants a password to be input from the main menu. While at first they only seem to unlock artwork, they also show you how to access a bonus level in which you decode morse code, braille and flipped text to gain access to a further password.
This third password is a bit of a disappointment, as the screen it unlocks suggests the existence of a hidden ending but offers no way of getting to it. It looks like you should be able to click the text to access each ending there, but perhaps for whatever reason it hasn’t worked as planned.
In any case, The Müll Littoral is an engaging story with satisfying puzzle mechanics. While short, it is beautifully illustrated and is a title that even some skeptical about its premise might be happy to pick up considering its reasonable price.