Mosaic, recently ported to consoles, is a walking simulator set in a dystopian future, where most people are nothing more than a cog in the corporate machine. As the protagonist, the game offers a window into that existence, and being the odd one out.
Mosaic is a relatively short game, one that should take you around four hours to complete, even with the occasional diversion to walk in the “wrong” direction or to use your phone. The game takes our protagonist through a standard work week in a world monopolized by a massive corporation. Our unkempt character is made to stand out amongst the drones inhabiting the world alongside him visually by being the only one without a suit jacket, functionally by being the only one to walk against the grain, and almost existentially as he elicits a reaction of avoidance from the other NPCs in the game.
With minimal text, there’s certainly some room for interpretation as to the game’s message, although there’s always an undercurrent of the corporation and world around you being against you. Breaking from the conformity of the rest of the drone-like workers will often bring you to Mosaic’s more colorful areas, allowing the protagonist to daydream or be nourished by a street musician.
The problem with Mosaic isn’t that the message isn’t appropriate. A wage starved corporate slave that can’t seem to succeed in a world that appears out to get him feels like a relevant theme, but for a deliberately paced, thoughtful game, the message seems heavy-handed. Throughout the game, the protagonist can add several apps to their phone, including a dating app and a cryptocurrency trading platform. You’ll never receive any matches on the almost eye-rollingly heteronormative dating app and the cryptocurrency app is designed to lose you money. You’ll also be late to work every day and never hit your productivity goals.
The app that comes pre-installed on your phone, BlipBlop, is one of the few aspects of the game where it feels like the protagonist, and by extension, the player, can escape from everyday life. Certainly a satire of clicker games, BlipBlop is Cookie Clicker without the cookies. It’s a basic skinner box where the only goal is to make numbers grow larger and I, like many before me, spent a decent chunk of my time with Mosaic tapping away at it, or making sure I collected the blops that accumulated while I wasn’t playing. As I passed levels 30, 50, and even 70, I at least got a smile out of the fact that this stripped-down distraction was doing exactly what it set out to do.
To be fair, I think there’s still an audience for Mosaic’s message, but it feels like it would be more at home when corporate counterculture messages like those of Fight Club or American Beauty were novel and not the starting point.
Mosaic was originally made as a point and click adventure game released on Apple Arcade and the controls translate well enough to consoles, largely because there aren’t too many controls needed to play. I played the game on the Switch, which unfortunately had several performance issues during the playthrough. More than a handful of times the game would stop for a second or two, which was frustrating, although given the pace of the game, not a dealbreaker in terms of stopping the action. BlipBlop in particular really seemed to have some hangups if it was played in crowded areas of the game. While this wasn’t intentional, it reminded me of performance issues in always online mobile games when a connection is bad.
All this being said, the game is beautiful, with a cold color palette and art style that works more subtly than the beat down that is the plot. The occasional divergence from the protagonist’s work routine does feel both rewarding and natural, I felt gently guided to these areas rather finding them from a compulsion to explore every nook and cranny of the world.
There will be people out there for whom Mosaic is an eye-opening game, but personally, I think it would have been more successful if it were more subtle. The sparse writing in the game is strong, and I found myself remembering the texts on the protagonist’s phone from a wrong number, hocking essential oils, and admonishing him for not following up much more than the corporate threats. Regardless, the game prompted me to think about the blatant and understated ways in which modern life mirrors the protagonist’s.
With an open mind, there is room to find meaning perhaps beyond the surface level plot, and if not, to be wowed at how something as simple as BlipBlop can still draw you in.