Krillbite Studios’ penchant for unique perspectives and character studies brought us Among the Sleep in 2014 — a horror game experienced from the perspective of an imaginative toddler. But now is the age of the atmospheric indie adventure, and the developer wants to use that to discuss something: good old-fashioned capitalism. And what better vessel for that journey than the polar opposite of the imaginative toddler: an uninspired adult! Mosaic is a four-hour point-and-click adventure that spotlights the miserable day-to-day existence of a white-collar worker in a dystopian future. And miserable you shall feel, for better or for worse.
Check the schedule
In Mosaic, players step into the nondescript shoes of an unremarkable salaryman drowning in a sea of mental and financial complications. Every morning, the cruel, corporate hand of big business grabs him by the tie and hauls him off to his desk job. There, he works long and hard in the name of productivity, then accepts his pitiful pay without protest.
Players spend their days walking and working like the pitiful drones they are. That is, until the man’s monotonous life is interrupted by his new guardian angel, a goldfish, jumpstarting his search for purpose. On his way to and from work, he stops to smell the proverbial roses, stumbling into busking musicians who, slowly but surely, begin to color his perspective. Emboldened by his new experiences, he shifts his focus towards confronting the corporation that has enslaved him and his city. Not bad for a man who, a few days ago, could barely drag himself out of bed. Now if only players could put Blipblop down and stay focused on the task at hand.
Terrible weather today
The world of Mosaic is drenched in deep, desaturated blues — this monochromatic scheme painting a picture that’s equal parts beautiful and depressing. While minimalist art and polygonal characters have become commonplace in indie games, the stunning cinematography work completely elevates the experience. Mosaic is one gorgeous scene after another set to an ominous electronic score.
The contrast between the drab urban environments, with its droning tunes and city ambience, and the expressive sights and sounds of nature is powerful and stimulating. Surreal imagery is laced throughout, contributing to a moody atmosphere and a more visceral representation of the soulless work cycle. Navigating through the ice-cold architecture of the city is an adventure all on its own.
Nine to five
Yet, beautiful as it may be, Mosaic is a hard sell. In just four hours, it successfully captures the spirit of workplace mundanity and of a life devoid of meaning by involving players in a string of menial tasks. Admirable, relatable, but not quite how you’d expect to spend your nights after work. Is there even fun to be had? Well, yes, provided you scrap your expectations. It’s more accurate to say that Mosaic sells players the aesthetic of mundanity, while staying surprisingly diverse. This, however, isn’t to say that the game completely escapes the clutches of monotony.
The game is separated into five chapters — each one covering, on average, a single day cycle in the man’s life. Structurally, each day is identical, but the stimuli introduced at each stop is wildly different. Every day, players climb out of bed and start a brief morning ritual: fix your hair, check your bills, wash your face, and pocket a magic goldfish. Then begins your walk to work. The entirety of Mosaic is played using the mouse alone, relying on point-and-hold to move and clicking to interact.
Every trip is different, but challenge stays light. Players need not do anything but walk and watch. Mosaic is a point-and-click walking simulator with no real puzzles and no real obstacles to overcome; you just drift through the chapters. The desk job itself is a short, strategic mini-game in which players funnel units down constructed paths, creating more paths in order to reach and feed a hungry program. Each time you play, new upgrades and obstacles freshen up the experience. There’s nothing novel in regards to the moment-to-moment gameplay, its usually nothing more than a vehicle to reach the next set piece.
Gameplay is straightforward, simple, elegant, and fun — most of the time. But, as Mosaic so confidently demonstrates with its inordinately long stretches of downtime, staying invested is difficult work. Oddly enough, the game works just as hard to bore you as it does the reverse.
Tap your thoughts away
At its core, Mosaic is a game about finding motivation in the face of unfulfilling rewards. The man, and subsequently the player, see no reason to complete the tasks laid out before them. This utter lack of intrinsic motivation turns even the shortest, simplest segments in the game into grueling endeavors. And to cope with these droughts, you turn to the in-game phone to start up Blipblop and other vapid time sinks.
I found myself becoming so engrossed in these pointless apps, staring at this screen within a screen while walking blindly past important interaction prompts. Interacting with the phone is unnecessary, but lengthy periods of downtime almost encourage its use — the game literally has nothing else to offer you in those moments.
Blipblop is, putting it lightly, the most barebones idle clicker to ever exist in the history of idle clickers. As with all idle clickers, players can tap a button for blips which they can then spend on a limited selection of upgrades to aid in the pursuit of more blips. As unorthodox of an addition as it may be, Blipbop features arguably the best sound and visual design in all of Mosaic. Audiovisual feedback on taps is immensely satisfying, evolving as you tap and keeping you locked in a trance-like state. And for what purpose do you participate in this endless power crawl? Playing Blipblop has no tangible effect on the life of your character nor the outcome of the game.
At the dullest stages in the man’s day, players turn to the phone for the few microdoses of the dopamine sorely missing from the framing experience. It’s potent commentary about society’s usage of phones as a means of abnegation, but whether you will be appreciative of the decision to capture this experience is a different story. Like a bored individual scrolling through social media, you’re occupied, but you’re not having fun. This is undoubtedly the point of Blipblop, of those periods of downtime, but at what cost do they come?
This is where Mosaic loses me. The man’s lack of self-actualization can be felt during the lowest points of his daily routine, but a certain enjoyment factor is absent. The sheer quantity of these intentional lulls in action, which were once compelling courtesy of their thematic weight, robbed them of all the power they previously had over me.
In contrast, the man’s meaningless desk job grew to become a source of pleasure. The emotional high of conquering mini-game levels was something nothing else in this game could provide. This screams counter-intuitive in a game hellbent on disincentivizing those very thoughts.
In these moments I would feel exhausted not because I was so deeply in tune with the suffering of the salaryman, but because I, as a player, found myself unengaged and wrestling tedium.
Résumé-worthy work experience
Fortunately, the bulk of the game narrowly avoids this pitfall. Mosaic is still a genuinely great time despite its awkward cadence dulling the experience and in turn, the message. A strong visual identity and a few great ideas go a long way in making Mosaic one of the more memorable moody adventures of the year. The story of the salaryman is well worth your time if you’re in the market for a solid, evocative narrative.