Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley highlights Moomin’s anti-authoritarian streak

Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley highlights Moomin’s anti-authoritarian streak

There are no rules in Moominvalley — or, at least, there aren’t supposed to be. No one can police the wondrous bounds of its nature and the creatures that call the harmonious landscape home. So when a self-appointed Park Keeper and his goon squad of police officers start setting up manicured parks with groomed hedges, gates, and — worst of all — rules, Moominvalley starts to fall into chaos. Everything that was once good and peaceful is disrupted. When Snufkin returns from an adventure in a distant land, Moominvalley is unrecognizable and his best friend Moomintroll missing, having been arrested and tossed into a cage while trying to stop this downfall.

I had little familiarity with the Moomins, the characters created by Tove Jansson, before starting Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley, the game just released by Norwegian studio Hyper Games. Melody of Moominvalley is loosely based on the fifth Moomin book, Moominsummer Madness, which was published in 1954. It’s just one part of a huge archive of Moomin media: There are now five video games, several theme parks, TV series and movies, books, and comic strips. Even if you, like me, don’t know the Moomins that well, you’ve probably seen them. They’re cute, rotund hippopotamus-like characters that live in the idyllic Moominvalley and value friendship, love, curiosity, and nature.

A little park that Snufkin is dismantling in Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley Image: Hyper Games/Raw Fury

Our main characters, Snufkin and Moomintroll, are adventurers and good-hearted troublemakers, making them the perfect duo to lead Melody of Moominvalley. You could also describe them as subversive, anti-authoritarian anarchists — something that surprised me when booting up the game for the first time, but that’s seemingly in line with the franchise at large.

When you think of anarchy, you might think of chaos and lawlessness, but that’s not the reality. Anarchism is rooted in anti-capitalism, and that often includes building communities that prioritize mutual aid, equality, and anti-fascism outside the state system. You can see this ideology in Melody of Moominvalley almost immediately. The game opens to the surreal sounds of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós as Snufkin returns to Moominvalley to find it in disrepair. The community is struggling, and, worse, his friend has been jailed. Equipped with a harmonica and other simple instruments, Snufkin heads out to learn what’s happened while pulling up signs that imply things like “no sniffing flowers” to bring the wild back to stilted parks, all while evading cops. Gameplay-wise, this means navigating Snufkin through simple environmental puzzles that largely include moving rocks to create pathways or finding little critters to help scale tall walls. The instruments, too, are helpful in these situations, whether that’s to lure something out of a hole or send crabs or spiders scrambling away.

There’s not a whole lot to do, and that’s part of the appeal, something akin to Adam Robinson-Yu’s A Short Hike. (That comparison seems to make sense in that Robinson-Yu is credited as a design consultant on Melody of Moominvalley.) It’s mostly aimless exploration, following trails only to be met with dead ends story-wise, but maybe with a character or two to talk to or assist with a small favor. In one instance, I helped the invisible child Ninny get her clothes back after they were stolen. These, in one way or another, will eventually lead back to the path toward saving Moomintroll, and thus, Moominvalley. (Snufkin’s pal, Little My, adds a bit of spunk to the adventure, too.)

The Moomin park keeper telling police officers they are doing good work in Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley Image: Hyper Games/Raw Fury

In its more active moments, Melody of Moominvalley requires me to evade police in simple stealth sections. But largely, you’ll be collecting inspiration from nature, which increases the power of the aforementioned instruments and is necessary to “unlock” certain areas. Finding this inspiration is as simple as running through a bush or a field of flowers, and it encourages you to take a peek even into the game’s dead ends. My biggest complaint is that for a game with “melody” in the name, the instrument mechanic is a little underutilized. Yes, it’s important to “unlock” certain areas and progress, but it feels more of an add-on rather than a core focus.

This is an uncomplicated game mechanically, meaning children can easily explore the world, while older players can take comfort in the cozy nature of its intentionally slow play. If you’re looking for something that’ll keep you on edge, or constantly engaged, Melody of Moominvalley is not it. But when you want something slow, something that appreciates nature and community — with an anti-authoritarian touch — you’ll enjoy this short four or so hours of Moomin.

Snufkin: Melody of Moominvalley was released March 7 on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC via Steam. The game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a download code provided by Raw Fury. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.