The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories is a thought-provoking story about self-reflection and self-acceptance. Without giving too much away, you play as J.J. Macfield, our titular heroine, who goes on a trip to the peculiarly named Memoria Island with her best friend Emily, who suddenly winds up missing, prompting J.J to look for her.
Dialogue is sparse and there aren’t really any cutscenes to speak of, aside from the opening scene. However, throughout the game you will collect donuts that sporadically unlocks concept art, costumes, and music, as well as text message conversations between J.J and her various friends, associates, and family, which give you a much deeper insight into her character and personality.
Personally, I am not a big fan of stopping in the middle of gameplay to read a bunch of text, especially in a 2D platformer, but I do highly encourage people who decide to pick this game up to take their time and read through these whenever they come up. Platformers are normally not associated with being heavy on story telling, or for the story to be the focus. If they are, it is often subtle and told primarily in the background, but much of the lore of this game comes through these occasional texts. If you don’t read them to get the full picture, you are honestly only playing half the game and would be doing yourself a huge disservice.
As the story unravelled to me, I found myself more and more emotionally invested in it, and couldn’t get myself to put down the controller. Both because I liked the gameplay, of course, but also because I wanted to see how this would all end and, let me tell you, it was well worth it. The Missing took me on a journey that left me emotionally satisfied and quite honestly, on the brink of tears.
Moving on! The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories is quite the interesting beast, as it takes your usual perception of a traditional platformer and turns it on its head – quite literally. What do I mean by that? I’ll get to it. Early on, you get struck by lightning on an open flower field and burn to death. That is, until a talking deer in a lab coat comes up and revives you, simultaneously gifting you with ultimate regenerative powers. You see, in The Missing, you will want to get hurt, in order to solve puzzles or get past other types of obstacles blocking your way. Running head-first into a spiky hazard will tear you apart one limb at a time, until you are just a rolling head, and some puzzles then require you to use your own torn off limbs in order to progress. In some instances, you will need, say, another perspective on things, where you need to get a wrecking ball or other blunt object to literally break your neck in order to flip the whole world upside down. In other instances, you will need to light yourself on fire in order to burn down a wall of vines that blocks your path.
Fret not though, as this is where your unrivalled regeneration powers come into play. At any time during gameplay, you can simply hold the X button to completely restore yourself to your original state. But beware, as getting hurt again while you are just a head will set you back to your last checkpoint and the game is not really clear on when those are. I guess The Missing is kind of like Limbo; a game that was also presented in chapters without giving you any indication as to when you began the previous one, but I feel that Limbo was perhaps more generous with its chapters. On the other hand, you are never sent too far back, considering the game’s length, but it can still be a little annoying at times.
None of the puzzles in the game are too hard, though some did make me scratch my head, and, on a few occasions, I even solved them by sheer accident. They are all cleverly thought out in my opinion, and blend in naturally with the setting, like when you enter a cathedral where you need to make owls crash through the windows to let light in, or when you need to move a train in order to get through a tunnel. All in all, I found the game’s locations and set pieces very varied and memorable, and I never had a dull moment. In some instances, the dark pine tree forest background even gave me some slight Alan Wake vibes, especially when I reached the diner.
The Missing does get a bit graphic at times, which is of course also warned about when you boot the game up, and because of how slowly you move when you stumble around on one leg or when you drag yourself around as just a torso, progression can feel a bit slow and, dare I say, tedious? But these were cases where I still found the concept alone so bloody genius and unique, that I let those inconveniences slide. Upon game completion, you do, however, unlock a variety of ”cheats” as your in-game phone calls them. Among these is double speed, so that you won’t have to slug through the whole nine yards again on your second playthrough, as well as the ability to injure yourself at will so you don’t have to run back and forth looking for the hazards you need for a given puzzle. I really appreciate it when developers realise that after our first playthrough, we just want to go fast, so I highly commend them for planning ahead and implementing these features.
Other than that though, The Missing checks out on all other points of traditional platforming functionalities. Y makes you interact with pushable objects, or call for your missing friend to no avail when you are not near an object you can interact with – a useless function that reminded me of the ”Mario”-button in Luigi’s Mansion. B makes you jump, and holding L while pulling a direction with the left analogue stick makes you aim to throw whatever small object you are holding.
Something I did find a bit funny is that while most platformers make you crouch by simply holding down, The Missing has you pushing the A button for this. Not only that, but by pressing the A button once more, you go from crouching to lying flat on your stomach. This isn’t used an awful lot, but I thought it was a funny little detail.
If I can come with one nitpick or, rather, a suggestion for improvement, I would have liked to see the developer explore more kinds of status ailments to inflict on J.J. You can break her body to pieces and set her on fire, which are all used in very creative ways, but at some points you also encounter electrical surges that… also set her on fire. I thought it was a missed opportunity in these cases to not have her store electrical charges in her body or something like that. Oh well, maybe for a spiritual sequel.
As with other games of this kind, the music is mostly quiet and ambient, serving as subtle background noise and little more. Without giving too much away, it wasn’t until the very end where it picked up, near the game’s emotional climax, which, after hours of near dead silence, only made the experience that much more impactful.
Also, upon reaching the title – shortly after you get revived by the deer doctor – as well as during the credits, we do get some beautiful vocal piano pieces that really fit the theme and story of the game. And you know what? These are unlocked as well in ”Music” when you beat the game, for your pleasure to enjoy at any time.
Sound effects-wise however, The Missing doesn’t shy away from letting you know how much pain J.J is going through. She screams from the top of her lungs when she gets dismembered or set on fire, running away in the process in pure panic until she hits a wall. When she drags her broken body or torso along the ground, you can hear the sound of slimy fresh intestines that are even highlighted in white (whereas J.J’s body becomes a black silhouette when injured), and when you regenerate your body after getting your neck broken, you get a Mortal Kombat-style close-up x-ray of her bones getting put back in place along with a series of satisfying cracks.
Visuals & Performance
While a bit rough around the edges, like some of the cheap-looking 3D freeware games you can find on GameJolt, The Missing still somehow manages to create its own visual identity, and presents a believable world that is truly unique, hauntingly beautiful, and no less foreboding. The field of illuminated flowers at the beginning of the game immediately comes to mind, and will no doubt burn itself into your subconscious long after you reach the end credits, effectively demonstrating how beautiful the game can be. As stated before, every chapter manages to have its own visually distinct identity and set-pieces. The developer, White Owls Inc. clearly wanted to tell a story, not just through spoken dialogue or the in-game text messages, but through the game’s visuals too, and I feel they succeeded at that.
Earlier this year, I reviewed Forgotton Anne by Danish ThroughLine Games, and while being a visually pleasing and impressive piece of art, that also wanted to tell a story through its visuals just as much as its gameplay, I ultimately felt that it often forgot to be a game, in favor of being an interactive Miyazaki film. I stated furthermore that this is a delicate balance I feel only a few games achieve. Many game developers, both indie and AAA, want to tell a compelling and engrossing story, but this often results in a lot of handholding and the story taking priority over gameplay. I love a good singleplayer story in my games, be it platformer, survival-horror, or hack ‘n slash, but it should still, first and foremost, be a game… otherwise why not just make it a movie?
I feel that White Owls Inc. strike a near perfect balance on this matter, giving us a highly polished game, with some beautiful visuals, fun gameplay, and still manage to hook you in with a story that makes you compelled to keep going. A video game needs a driving force, a reason for you to keep going, with puzzle games like Tetris being an exception to the rule, whether it is a princess that needs rescuing or saving the world from the wrath of God. In my book, a great video game, is one where the gameplay on its own, but also the story, both complement each other as the product’s driving force, one not overshadowing the other. The Missing is that game. It remembers that it is a video game from start to finish, but also has a message, a story to tell that doesn’t feel intrusive… except when it asks you to stop and read, but hey, roll with me here.
It should be mentioned that I did, at times, encounter some pretty ugly stuttering, and, at the diner, the game outright crashed on me every time I tried re-entering through the backdoor. I only solved this problem by reloading the entire chapter, not initially knowing how far back that would send me. As for the stuttering, I haven’t played the game on Steam, so I cannot say if this is a performance issue across the board or just a Switch exclusive problem due to bad console optimisation. Either way, these stutters were rare and didn’t ruin my experience, but it would be nice if they got ironed out in a small update.
At $29.99/£23.99 the price may seem at bit steep, at first glance, but, in all honesty, this is one of those cases where one look at the game’s cover was all I needed to immediately know I was going to love it, and it did not disappoint. I bought The Missing with my own hard earned cash and I feel every penny was well worth it.
With clever puzzles that take full advantage of the unique dismemberment mechanic, beautiful visuals, a haunting atmosphere, an emotional story and conclusion, as well as ”cheats” that encourage replayability in case you missed something on your first run through, everything goes together to create one of those unique experiences that doesn’t come around all too often. If you find The Missing on sale (which it is, currently, on the US eShop and Steam, as of writing this article), it’s a no-brainer.
I do highly encourage that you go out and buy it even at full price however, and show the developers some love. I love a good sale myself, but when I wholeheartedly want to support something, I want to do it properly, and The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories is well worth its full asking price, with everything it offers and all the heart and effort that has gone into it.
Cool extras and unlockables
Graphics are a bit rough