Mothered is… I actually have no idea how to explain this.
Gaming is amazing. Well, some sectors of it are. When you look away from the big AAA releases that annualise sequels and release the next trend chasing “Big Hit (Trademark)” then you find an absolute hive of creativity. Undertale and Inscryption are arguably simplistic games at their core, but they use that core to tell stories in unique ways, and whilst I don’t think Mothered reaches those lofty titles, it absolutely has a tale to tell in an unusual way.
Mothered is hard to talk about without spoiling a significant amount about the game’s story and mechanics, and the joy of this game really is in discovering just how mad it gets with the narrative and how it’s presented to you. With that said, you play as Liara, a girl returning home with her father after having undergone major surgery. You’re going to stay with your mother to recover and try to return to a normal life whilst your father returns to work, promising to call you later in the week. It quickly becomes apparent that things here are all sorts of wrong, with your mother appearing to be a mannequin, your brother refusing to leave his room, and you being fed “nutrients” each morning.
Over the course of the week, you’ll complete simple tasks like visiting parts of the estate and collecting apples, before reaching an ending. I won’t go into this any further as, again, finding out what’s going on is kind of crucial to the enjoyment of Mothered, but rest assured, the narrative is absolutely worth experiencing. I personally felt that it played certain elements of its hand a little too early, but there are many things that you see in the initial couple of days that make little sense that suddenly all drop into place.
Mechanically, this is very simple to play, with there actually being quite limited interaction. I could see some people arguing that this is a walking simulator, a term that I’m not a fan of, but there’s a certain element of puzzle solving here, especially if you want to see the actual ending to the game. You mostly walk around the estate, looking for you mother who will then give you your next task, which is often to go somewhere and pick something up. The menial nature of this is deliberate and ties into how Liana is meant to be recovering, but it does feel a little tiresome at some points. Having to find and pick eight apples in an orchard is an exercise in irritation after a while due to the visuals on display. But once you work out what’s happening and reach that ending, it all makes sense and the time spent, roughly two to three hours all told, doesn’t feel at all wasted.
Speaking of visuals, there’s a solid low-poly/low-res style here, mixed with that grainy video cassette style that is now used in so many analogue horror series’ on YouTube. It does a lot to make everything here feel significantly creepier, and adds to the sense of wrongness that you feel as you walk around the house and discover things that perhaps you aren’t meant to see. The use of lighting, whilst initially seeming too dark, does a great job of revealing things just when you’re meant to see them and not before. That moment when I went to have Liana go sleep only to be told that I can’t go to sleep whilst someone else in the room filled me with dread.
Sound effects and music are equally sophisticated here. The music is eerie and every so slightly discordant at just the right moments. The transition between morning, afternoon, evening, and night has its own sound effect that is just creepy enough to keep you on edge. The sounds are limited, but again are used in just the right way. Harsh screeches aren’t used to cause a jump scare but to transition from one moment to another. You won’t leap out of your skin, but you’ll know something unsettling may be happening just behind you.
Now, the horror element. Mothered is described as a horror role playing game, and some elements of that are true, but perhaps not in the way you expect. Depending on your understanding of the word horror in entertainment, you’ll be expecting wildly different things, but I expect an age rating of 7+ isn’t one of them. This game does not contain horrifying images, or sudden jump scares, but the atmosphere is absolutely fantastic. It’s unsettling in just the right ways, and that previously mentioned wrongness permeates throughout. Again, the story and the mysteries that are presented to you will have you questioning everything that you’ve seen and heard so far. This is not a game you’ll watch your favourite internet celebrity scream at. This is something so much more impressive in how it presents fear.
As I mentioned earlier, there are some sections here that go on longer than they should, and in a way the whole game could go on much longer than you might like depending on how much you’re paying attention. Without going into too much detail, it’s possible that you’ll end up playing the same sections several times, not because of you failing as there is no fail state here, but because of how the story progresses. To solve the puzzles and reach the actual end of the game, you’ll need to pay attention to what characters say about where they will be and when. I could see this being frustrating for some, but those who are used to time loop games might be able to spot how to progress quickly.
Mothered isn’t for everyone, but it is a game I would implore people to experience. It’s creepy, fascinating, dark, and unlike any narrative driven game I can think of in recent memory. There’s a creativity here that you don’t find in many places and that in itself is worth rewarding.