STAFF REVIEW of Mothmen 1966 (Xbox One)

Friday, July 22, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Mothmen 1966 Box art Mothmen 1966 is quite a unique experience. Developed by a small indie duo, many games bring some nostalgia to my early gaming days growing up, but this might be going almost as far back as I can remember, having a very mid to late 80’s aesthetic that I remember playing when I was quite young. Before I begin with this review as normal though, I have to be honest, I had to do some research into some of the terms and lore that heavily influences this whole experience.

While most people will think of the iconic Tarantino movie when they hear Pulp Fiction, it was actually originally a term for stories that were published in magazines from around 1900 to the 1950’s, actually getting their name from the cheap pulp paper they were printed on, sometimes referred to as "Pulps". If you need an example of how important these were for storytelling later in the future, Conan the Barbarian actually originated in Pulp magazines, which obviously later was adapted to newer media.

Have you ever heard of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Ogopogo, a Yeti or a Chupacabra? These are called cryptids, creatures that have many stories about sightings but with no scientific proof, aren’t generally accepted as being real. Given the game’s title, it’s obvious that Mothman is the cryptid inspiration for its story. I wasn’t aware, but Mothman is rooted deep in West Virginia folklore from 1966 from people that reported seeing a "large flying man with ten-foot wings" with eyes that glow red.

One of the most miraculous meteor shower displays that ever occurred over North America happened during the Leonid meteor shower of 1966. While this meteor shower happens annually, the one that occurred in 1966 was apparently quite a sight to behold, as these rare special showers only happen every 33 years or so if we’re lucky. Combining this rare occurrence with the Mothman legacy is where this story takes place.

Mothmen 1966 is what’s called a Pixel Pulp, possibly a new genre and style that the indie developers have seemed to nail exactly as intended. I’ll be upfront though, this wasn’t at all what I was expecting, as it’s essentially a very short visual novel that utilizes old 80’s visual aesthetics when gaming was done on bulky VGA monitors with limited color palettes.

Given that Mothmen 1966 is easily completable in a single sitting, lasting maybe an hour or two tops, I’m not going to delve too far into its narrative, as that’s its whole experience. Taking the original West Virginia lore but adding its own twists, feeling much like an episode of X-Files or The Twilight Zone, novelist Nico Saraintaris and artist Fernando Martinez Ruppel seem to work well together, as the writing is done quite well and the retro computer graphics complement the story even more.

Mothmen 1966 starts with Holt working at his gas station late one night. Kids come by and are being pesky brats, but he goes back to playing a unique variation of solitaire with his grandmother, Elsie. At this moment three men dressed in complete black enter the gas station and from this point on, things start to get...weird. You’ll then meet the main couple, Lee and Victoria, driving somewhere unknown which is where you see something above the tree line with some bright red eyes.

Each character in the beginning seemed quite one dimensional, but as you play through each chapter you’ll play from a different perspective and character, eventually unearthing their secrets and motivations for what they are doing and why. Holt seems to be building some sort of mysterious project behind the gas station, Lee seems like he’s got some anger issues, Victoria has a secret she needs to tell Lee but can’t seem to get the courage, and Lou is tagging along who seems to know way too much about history and folklore.

Given that Mothmen 1966 is a visual novel at its core without too much interaction, the only real settings you’ll be able to adjust is the message speed and how much of a delay between completed scenes and dialogue if you choose to have it automatically scroll instead of having to press ‘A’ every paragraph to further the narrative. The story as a whole is interesting enough that I wanted to see it to completion, even before realizing it was quite short, though the last section seemed a little rushed.

Much like those old-school ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ types of books, Mothmen 1966 gives the same kind of vibes where you’ll be given some different dialogue options as you progress through the story, though this seems like a smokescreen given that there’s basically a linear path of progression for the most part, especially when it comes to the few puzzle sections. Choose ‘wrong’ and you’ll die, being sent back to the choices again, sometimes having to brute force the ‘correct’ path of multiple choices.

There’s a couple sections where you’ll need to choose how to proceed or survive. The first is when you’re surrounded by a pack of coyotes and you need to choose which ones in order to shout at to keep them away until you can get back into your car. Another situation is when you’re surrounded by Mothmen sitting on top of a few streetlights, but if you don’t choose the exact correct order to smash out the lights you’ll die and have to restart these sections over again. There’s not many of these puzzle-like sections, but they were undoubtedly the weakest portions of the whole experience, simply using trial and error to figure out the correct option path.

Funny enough, the highlight for me aside from its retro graphical style was the inclusion of a replayable “Impossible Solitaire” minigame that you’re taught at the beginning of the adventure. Once unlocked you can replay this from the main menu at any time and is oddly addictive. What makes this variation of Solitaire so different and “Impossible” you ask? You play the game with the same core rules of regular Solitaire, but when you’re out of possible moves you have to grab a card from the discard pile. The trick here is that you have to guess if it’s going to be a Black or Red card. Guess wrong and it’s Game Over and you start all over again. After about a hundred tries I’ve come close but still not completed Impossible Solitaire, though you’re not required to do so to continue on in your adventure.

This is where Mothmen 1966 shows some of its weaknesses and annoyances, as you have to choose from a menu if you want to move your cursor Left or Right, then another menu option to choose your selection, same when you guess Red or Black cards from the discard pile. Sure you get used to it and I get that it’s replicating classic gaming from when this is how games were controlled, but it’s quite tedious and annoying to control instead of giving you the option to move a cursor with the Left Stick.

With a visual novel that only lasts about an hour or so it might be hard to justify a purchase, but there’s a handful of achievements to hunt for to add a bit more replayability, like seeing every death scene. There is a brief demo/side story from the main menu as well, but won’t add much more playtime to the overall package.

As odd as it is to say, the retro pixel based artwork may not impress many, but growing up during the era of gaming where this was how some of the better games looked, it certainly brought back some nostalgia where I would have to play games from old 5.25-inch Floppy Disks. Colors are heavily saturated and the palette only consist of a few colors at most. Utilizing a mostly blue and green tones, the red eyes from the Mothmen drastically stand out, adding emphasis on the storytelling. For how retro the pixel graphics are, there’s a surprising amount of detail in many of the scenes which is quite impressive given the era its trying to replicate. Character profile pictures appear in the top corners when there's dialogue to indicate who is speaking and when with their facials changing depending on the scene. It’s an odd blend of simplistic pixel art without much detail, yet has enough detail so that you can determine shadows and density. It’s wonderfully done and shows a lot of hard work went into its tone and style, a very distinct bravura you don’t see any more.

The audio is also trying to replicate early to mid-80’s computer gaming with very basic ‘beeps’ and ‘boops’. As text is appearing on screen it has a distinct typewriter-like sound, and while there’s not much of a traditional soundtrack there is instead distinct sound effects that was quite grating at times. The screech of Mothmen or other sounds seems to happen often enough to be annoying and more than once my wife asked me to turn it down from the annoying audio. Yes it’s most likely trying to be a jarring experience, but the audio transitions didn’t sound very smooth at times or had basically no audio at all.

Mothmen 1966 is a very brief visual novel with an interesting story, akin to a short story or something I swear I saw on an episode of X-Files once. While the price may be a little steep given the hour or two long adventure, at least you have an interesting take on Solitaire you can challenge yourself with, as long as you can handle the annoying menu base controls.

**Mothmen 1966 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 3.0 / 10


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